'Panther Packs' brighten up holidays for Naval students

Pennfield students put together packages in assembly-line style

By Jim McGaw
Posted 12/18/19

PORTSMOUTH — It was déjà vu last week for Cmdr. Clemia Anderson III of Officer Training Command Newport, who was visiting Pennfield School along with Senior Chief Electronics …

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'Panther Packs' brighten up holidays for Naval students

Pennfield students put together packages in assembly-line style

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — It was déjà vu last week for Cmdr. Clemia Anderson III of Officer Training Command Newport, who was visiting Pennfield School along with Senior Chief Electronics Technician (SCET) Darrick Terry. 

Speaking to students inside the gym at Pennfield School, Cmdr. Anderson recalled the time he was called up to serve in Kabul, Afghanistan in 2007, but first visited another Naval base.

“We stopped in Bangor, Maine and there was a group that was waiting there to greet us, and they all gave us Christmas gifts,” he said. “When I got to Afghanistan, it was a week before Christmas and I had waited to open the gifts. That was all I had to open Christmas Day.”

He and SCET Terry were at Pennfield on Thursday, Dec. 12, to collect more holiday gifts. Except this time, they were for students at Officer Training Command Newport, where Cmdr. Anderson said two-thirds of all Naval officers are trained.

“For me, this is something that brings my (Christmas in Afghanistan) back to me and I’m very proud of the school for being able to do this for our students,” he said.

Last year, students at Pennfield used a buddy system and an assembly-line approach to put together about 90 “Panther Packs” — the animal is the school’s mascot — for homeless people in Providence. 

This year they made up even more “Panther Packs” — about 100 — for the Naval officer candidates, many of whom won’t be making their way home for Christmas.

“We haver a large military presence in our school, and we thought we’d keep this project local to show gratitude,” explained Judy Hall, who along with fellow Pennfield teacher Jenny Williams, organized the event. “We thought this group was very deserving, knowing how much sacrifice they will make and that they won’t be with their families this holiday.”

Gratitude, she said, is a key component in Pennfield’s “Choose Love” curriculum. “We feel this is the perfect project for our students, as they begin to understand the importance of showing gratitude to those who make sacrifices for us.”

Personal connection

The school also has a personal connection to the Officer Training Command because both men who visited last week have children who attend Pennfield.

“I have three kids here,” said SCET Terry. “Jadon’s in fifth grade; Mia, she’s in the fourth; and Ava, who’s in the first grade.”

“My daughter is Marley Anderson; she’s in pre-K,” said Cmdr. Anderson.

Each drawstring back sack contained a stick of Chapstick, a deck of cards or Uno, a granola bar, two travel toothbrushes, a candy bar, four jerky sticks, and cards and letters written by students.

“This is the ultimate act of gratitude,” Ms. Hall told students. “It’s nice to get something special unexpectedly.”

SCET Terry, who’s served more than 20 years in the military, agreed. Although the school shuts down for the holiday, many who attend are unable to see their families for the holidays. 

“There’s two to a room. There’s no TV. There’s no social media. There’s no phone, except once on Sunday,” he said.

The “Panther Packs” will go far in lifting their spirits during a time of year that can be lonely for them, he said.

“Some of them are down on their luck. They wish they could be with their families. They can’t always call home. I just wanted you to know how this means to them.”

Pennfield School

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