'Operation' to collect care package donations a success

Published: Wednesday, April 1, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 31, 2009 at 11:12 p.m.

University of Florida alumni and students serving in Iraq face plenty of health threats, but they can now worry less about their dental health being on the list.

UF students held a drive, "Operation Gator Gratitude," over the past months to collect hygiene products, snacks and other items. Drive spokeswoman Kelly Ann Packard said the goal was to create care packages for a dozen UF students and alumni doing military service in Iraq.

She said the effort netted more than 500 donations, including everything from crossword puzzles to socks. Each person will receive a care package with an abundance of items, she said.

"They're going to be good on toothpaste for the rest of their deployments and then some," she said.

Students will gather tonight to pack the items. An anonymous donor has paid for postage.

UF officials typically visit the state capitol each year for a "Gator Day" to lobby lawmakers. For the second straight year, budget cuts led the event to be scrapped.

Instead, officials joined Florida Blue Key's Legislative Day. The student honor society's event, held Tuesday, included a reception at the governor's mansion and meetings with lawmakers.

Group President Aron Weingard said higher education funding was a major topic of discussion.

"I think it had an impact on them hearing it from a student perspective," he said.

The event will be held at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium from 8 to 9 a.m. on the morning of the Orange and Blue game. The book costs $25, with sales and contributions collected benefiting the program.

The program provides scholarships to students whose parents never earned bachelor's degrees and make less than $40,000 a year. In October, Meyer and men's basketball coach Billy Donovan announced they'd lead a drive to raise $50 million for the program.

At the time, Meyer also pledged a personal donation. A spokesman for the University Athletic Association said Meyer is in the process of finalizing a plan for that donation.

Student dancers must stand more than 26 hours. About 650 dancers and 600 student volunteers are involved in the event.

The event has grown from raising about $12,400 in 1995 to a record-breaking $435,560 in 2008. The money is donated to the Children's Miracle Network at Shands at UF.

Event spokeswoman Madison Cheatwood said the amount raised this year is a tightly guarded secret until it's announced Sunday.

"No matter what it is, I think we'll all be really excited," she said.

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