American military troops serving in combat zones around the world will get an iconic taste of home, thanks to a donation of 65,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies purchased locally by generous customers and donated through the Girl Scouts of West Central Florida's Gift of Caring program.
Donations to Gift of Caring increased by almost 20 percent this year, up from 54,000 boxes donated last year.
The donated cookies will be shipped to locations such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait and the Kyrgyz Republic through a partnership with Support the Troops, an organization that supplies military troops with everyday items to aid them during deployment.
Local Scout participation in the 2013 cookie program topped 10,000. More than 1.9 million boxes of cookies were sold, with Girl Scout troops retaining more than $1.2 million in proceeds.
Locally, cookie proceeds have been used by girls to benefit organizations that include Southeastern Guide Dogs Inc., Steppin' Stone Farm, Tampa Bay Humane Society and A Kid's Place.
Girl Scouts of West Central Florida serves nearly 21,000 girls and nearly 10,000 adult members in Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Marion, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk and Sumter counties.
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During Dunedin Elementary's recent year-end assembly program, the school's top boy and girl readers in grades K-5 were awarded new bicycles courtesy of Dunedin Masonic Lodge No. 192 F.& A.M. through its "Bikes-for-Books" program, administered by the school.
Dunedin Masons on hand for the presentation included Dave Boddy, Tim Bryce, Rob Frierson, Shannon McIntosh, Mike Palenik, Leo Saito, Rome Scerbo and John Wright.
"This is our seventh year doing this, which means fifth-grade students who won bikes back in 2007 will be graduating from high school in a few weeks," calculated Palenik, lodge member and school liaison. "We're told it is having a positive effect in terms of encouraging the students to read. This is a program that was originally created by Masonic Lodges in the western United States, but we're the first lodge to implement the program in Florida and we remain the only lodge in the state offering such a program that encourages reading."
He added that all of the bikes were paid for by the individual donations of Dunedin Lodge members.
Dunedin Elementary principal Kathy Brickley was appreciative of the Masons' efforts, as was Cindy Borland, the school's reading and literacy coach.
"This program has encouraged the students to embrace reading," said Borland. "We hope this will be a habit that will stay with them for a lifetime."
Dunedin Lodge is also happy with the program's results and wants to perpetuate it in the years ahead.
"Masons have long been supporters of public school systems, and Dunedin Lodge is no exception," said Dunedin Lodge Master John Wright. "We are proud of our relationship with Dunedin Elementary and pleased to support them not only with Bikes-for-Books, but with other programs as well. Youth represents the future for our country. It is just common sense we support them any way we can."
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