It may be her brother currently deployed overseas serving in the Vermont Army National Guard, but Lyndon Institute senior Kaylynn Pinsonneault is all about rallying the troops for a good cause.
The 17-year-old is a VT S.U.P.P.O.R.T.S. board member and outspoken champion of the annual holiday outreach that sends care packages to military men and women who are deployed in service to their country.
The “S.U.P.P.O.R.T.S.” in VT S.U.P.P.O.R.T.S. stands for Strangers Uniting Preparing Packages Openly Remembering Troops Serving.
The initiative was created in 2004, during the second Operation: Desert Storm, as a way to send a hometown holiday to our troops overseas, notes information on the group’s website (vtsupports.org). Local civilians got together to pack boxes and write cards to the troops. The outreach has grown over the years. In 2019, 725 boxes were sent to deployed service personnel.
On Saturday, volunteers will gather at the Elks Club on Western Avenue in St. Johnsbury to pack boxes to ship overseas.
Pinsonneault will be there like she has for the last 10 years. Over the years, she’s packed boxes, made Christmas tree ornaments, made scarves and joined the governing board of the non-profit.
This year, she sought to step up her donation-seeking efforts by telling the entire LI school community about VT S.U.P.P.O.R.T.S.
The plan was for Pinsonneault to address a school assembly that was also going to commemorate Veterans Day. The event was set for Nov. 17. Also scheduled to speak was LI’s head of maintenance, Doug Urie, who is a military veteran with over 30 years in the service. Unfortunately, a COVID contact concern put the school into remote learning and the assembly was canceled.
LI’s Chief Operating Officer Mike Lowe worked with Pinsonneault to make sure her message still got to her target audience. Pinsonneault created a slide show and got videos from two deployed Guardsmen - one was from her brother, Sgt. Jordan Bergeron, and the other was from Maj. Eric Stuepfert. Both are serving in Kosovo, and both are connected to LI. Bergeron is a 2014 graduate and Stuepfert is an educator there.
The videos from Stuepfert and Bergeron communicated how much of a morale boost it is for deployed service people to get packages from fellow Americans during the holidays.
Lowe shared the videos and slide show via email with the entire school community of students, staff and faculty. He said the message to the recipients was to take the time to view the slide show, watch the video messages and support the outreach by bringing in supplies. The school is collecting items starting today to give to the package-stuffing crew at the Elks Club this Saturday.
LI also contributed a donation of $205 to become a bronze sponsor of the 2021 VT S.U.P.P.O.R.T.S. outreach. The money will pay for 10 boxes to be shipped.
Pinsonneault said she was encouraged by the response to her presentation to the school. “I know kids who are like ‘this is awesome; I just went and bought things,” she said.
Lowe said he was happy to help Pinsonneault get the word out and to see a student stepping up to support a good cause.
“It’s always great to see students involved in the community in any capacity and even more so when it is of a selfless nature,” he said.
VT S.U.P.P.O.R.T.S. President Nicquelle Timson said she appreciates Pinsonneault’s efforts and enthusiasm toward the outreach. Making Pinsonneault a part of the board seemed like a natural progression even though she’s still a teenager, Timson said.
“It was just right up her alley,” Timson said. “She just sees the need for it and has the motivation for it, and to have a younger presence on the board is nice.”
Also on the board is Pinsonneault’s mother, Stacy. She is an administrative assistant in LI’s special education program.
She said being part of VT S.U.P.P.O.R.T.S. this year has extra special meaning knowing her son is deployed, along with Stuepfert and her son’s friend growing up, Aaron Gilman.
Stacy said she’s excited to get back to packaging as normal on Saturday. Last year, the army of volunteers couldn’t gather due to pandemic-related restrictions. People looking to contribute last year were encouraged to pre-package boxes.
That is also available this year, said Timson. Anyone wishing to pre-package is asked to get an APO flat rate box at their local post office, fill it and deliver it to the Elks Club on Friday, between 1 and 6 p.m.
To be a part of the packaging team on Saturday, go to the Elks Club between 9 a.m. and noon. The goal this year is to send 400 boxes out.
Timson said donations of items and money are appreciated. The shipping cost to start the packages on their journey to the soldier recipients increases every year. It’s jumped almost a dollar per box since last year to $20.40.