Snickers, Skittles and Sweet Tarts are saving lives overseas, and a 14-year-old Winter Park resident is working to collect as many treats as he can for the cause.
Andrew Weinstock, a ninth-grader at Trinity Preparatory School, is working on gathering candy for Operation Gratitude. The nonprofit organization’s mission is to send care packages to individual soldiers in hostile and remote regions of the world. The packages contain food, hygiene products, entertainment items and personal letters of appreciation.
“It provides an avenue of expression for every American to say thank you to our military,” said Carolyn Blashek, founder of Operation Gratitude.
And while the purpose of the packages is to lift the morale of the troops, it also has another use — saving lives. The soldiers commonly use the candy contained in the packages to give to local children in exchange for the location of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, and other information that may help save lives. This information hit Andrew in a big way. He knew he had to help.
“It’s truly an amazing feeling,” he said. “I’m actually saving lives.”
Idea is born
At Halloween each year, many dentists collect leftover candy from kids’ trick-or-treating adventures in exchange for money to benefit Operation Gratitude. So last year, when Andrew saw a story about that on the news, he thought he could do the same, but without paying for a thing. He made collection boxes and fliers, and first brought them to his school, but he knew he could do more.
“He just found something that really spoke to him,” said Lynn Wilbur, Andrew’s former teacher and advisor for Builders Club, Trinity’s middle school community service club.
Andrew set out on a mission. The gangly kid approached managers at local Publix supermarkets, Walgreen’s and CVS stores to see if they could donate their leftover Halloween candy to his cause. At first they didn’t take him seriously — not even responding to Andrew’s outstretched hand for a handshake. But, then, he started talking about his mission, and what it meant to the people the candy could help, and in seconds their demeanor changed, said Jodi Weinstock, Andrew’s mom. And then they said yes.
“Everyone knows someone in the military,” Andrew said. “It’s amazing they all want to help out.”
At first, his goal was to collect 50 pounds of candy, and when he reached that goal, he set a higher one, and then a higher one.
“It just took off,” Jodi said. “Andrew found this, and it had a heartbeat, and he gave it blood.”
A new goal
After 10 days of collecting, Andrew had 911 pounds of candy to send off to Operation Gratitude. This year his goal is 2,000 pounds — that’s one ton of candy. Andrew said he isn’t intimidated by his goal; it just helps him work harder.
“If you don’t have a high enough goal, you’re not going to try as hard,” he said.
So this year, he’s started working earlier, connecting with stores and organizations in the community to get as much candy as he can. He spends a few hours every day during the school week working on the project and 10 hours on weekends going out and making connections around town. It’s a lot of work for the 14-year-old, but Andrew said the end result is worth it.
“It’s always nice to give back, to do good things for other people,” Andrew said. “It’s the best feeling in the world.”
Dr. Zachary Hodgins, a Winter Park dentist, is on board with the cause, too. His office collected candy, giving kids $1 per pound they donated, on Monday.
“The troops are doing a great job, and we’re just showing our appreciation for what they’re doing,” Hodgins said.
Blashek said Andrew is one of the highest individual candy collectors for Operation Gratitude, even including dentists who give money for the candy donated. She’s sure he’ll make his goal, and loves the passion he shows for her organization’s mission.
“I’m thrilled to see that in such a young man reflects a great sense of patriotism,” she said.
Wilbur loves that he’s an inspiration to her other students, especially for the more quiet ones, like Andrew can be.
“One person does — and can — make a difference, and Andrew is an example of that.”
For more details on how to help Andrew Weinstock achieve his goal, e-mail [email protected] or call 407-733-7033. You can donate candy now through Sunday, Nov. 7 at the three Winter Park fire stations or the Winter Park City Hall.