A lot has happened to the Mandujano family since Julietta began her senior year.

The 17-year-old, whose twin sister Jennifer was featured in The Daily Astorian last November for her senior project at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, lost her mother in January after a battle with cancer.

The twins are helping their father to raise their 5-year-old sister at home.

And amid the turmoil, Julietta’s senior project fell through.

But serving as a bright light and a helping hand in the midst of Julietta’s last year in high school, Missy Johnson, in academic support at Astoria High School and a U.S. Army veteran, has helped the teen find a meaningful project for a different kind of service and sacrifice.

The duo has packed boxes for military troops fighting in Afghanistan and is ready to start mailing.

But they need names and addresses of those in the war. They also need money for postage.

“I was (falling) behind,” Mandujano said of her senior project, “because I was really stressed out at home and everything. So I had a project in mind to do at the hospital, but then that didn’t turn out. So then I decided to do packages for troops. (Johnson) introduced me to the project and I was really excited about it and doing something for them, since they are always over there and don’t have contact with family and I thought that would be a good idea to send them some things from here to over there in Afghanistan.”

Mandujano collected items for the boxes, starting March 1 through last Friday. Among the most popular items requested by service men and women were wet wipes and gum.

“Goodies, puzzle books,” Mandujano said were popular items in the packages.

Johnson added, “Troops have sent requests through emails through family for wet naps, hand sanitizer, gum! Gum has been the request from everywhere, which is kind of funny to us, but that’s OK. And sweets – candy – has been a real big request.”

Decks of playing cards and paperback books are also included in the boxes, as well as toiletries.

“Because I was a service member overseas, I remember getting things, like the little bars of soap from hotels,” she said. “We’ve collected a lot of toiletries.”

Now with the item collection portion of the project over, Mandujano is collecting names and addresses of local men and women overseas, including family and friends of local residents.

Those names can be submitted to mjohnson@astoria.k12.or.us

“When I first talked to her,” Johnson said of Julietta, “she was like in tears because she was at the deadline of, ‘I need to have a senior project done and I don’t know what to do?’ So I told her, ‘I know this project, what do you think of this?’”

The project had been done last year by the local Marine Corps League with the help of a student, and Johnson said she knew it was something that the organization was committed to, “so when her project fell through, I told her, and the tears dried right up and she got this big smile, which made me pretty happy, and she said, “‘I want to do this project with you.’”

Johnson said she has been impressed with Mandujano’s ability to take the project head-on.

“She just grabbed the bull by the horns and said, ‘Let’s go, Mrs. Johnson.’ So I have been flying with her all the way,” she said. “It’s been pretty amazing.”

“We’ve gotten great results,” Mandujano said. “A lot of people keep coming in for donations. We’re getting in checks.”

It costs a little more than $12 per package to ship the boxes. Johnson and Mandujano are collecting money to send each box to the troops.

Mandujano has spoken to several groups of veterans about her project, including the American Legion, the Pacific Northwest Lady Veterans and the Marine Corps League gathered at Lum’s Auto April 6 for the Welcome Home Event. Each organization has been behind Mandujano and her efforts.

At the Welcome Home event, Dick Lang, who published his father’s stories in a book, “Kriegies and Goons,” about being a prisoner of war, donated two copies to send overseas.

Sen. Betsy Johnson was also in attendance and offered to find help for the teen with college and housing after graduation, Mandujano said. Johnson is also helping Jennifer Mandujano with housing help for her upcoming internship at Doernbecher’s.

  

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