EAGLE POINT — Bryce Thornton has quietly built a juggernaut, a community effort that provides gift packs to deployed soldiers.
What began as a token of appreciation for a unit at the Kandahar Air Field in Afghanistan generated 754 packages in 2009. From there, the effort has picked up steam, turning into an Eagle Scout project.
After a three-hour session at the Eagle Point High School cafeteria on Saturday morning, Thornton's volunteers and supporters have stuffed 2,350 boxes and will surpass 2,500 by Christmas. He hopes to top 4,000 during his senior year.
It's been a lesson in logistics, collecting donations and rounding up volunteers while navigating obstacles to get everything from books and magazines to hydration supplements and hot sauce to a country many members would have had a hard time identifying on a map not long ago.
There were no how-to books or videos on YouTube explaining what to do and what not do, said Darrin Thornton, his father.
"The veterans group we talked to in Albany sent out volunteers with a box and were sending two or three boxes a month," he said.
At first, the learning curve was formidable.
"Now there's not much that surprises me," the 16-year-old EPHS junior said.
The present challenge is to get the packages treated as those sent for foreign assistance following a natural disaster.
The local effort has raised $29,000 for shipping since 2009 and received backing from companies large and small in the Rogue Valley.
Thornton has a meeting scheduled with Congressman Greg Walden in Medford on Tuesday, where he hopes to encourage legislative action that would put the packages on similar footing to humanitarian aid.
He had more than two-dozen helpers Saturday and has had as many as 30 working the assembly line, recruiting from his Scout Troop, 4-H club and classmates.
"I don't know if a lot people know about this," said fellow Eagle Point High School junior Tommy O'Brien, who has assisted in the project. "But I know we got more people from the high school than in the past."
O'Brien said Thornton has developed a system that makes quick work to pack hundreds of boxes.
"He shows leadership in this package drive," O'Brien said. "When he first got here, he said 'This is how we're going to do it.' We start here and work the scale by the stage."
Four years into what is shaping up as a five-year run, Thornton has amassed enough know-how to write a book on delivering community gifts to troops on the front lines.
"We've just made up everything as we go," he said. "No one does something like this except for the AVET Project in Florida."
American Veterans Empowerment Team collects subscriptions nationwide, while Thornton's efforts demonstrate what one community can do.
After next year, Thornton will likely head off to college — perhaps Oregon State University — and will hand off his project to his brother, Alec.
"It would be someone that's been helping me all the time," Thornton said. "He's been helping me all the time."
Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or firstname.lastname@example.org.