Army Spc. Arich Erdeski hugs 4-year-old Ian Brule, who donated his Easter candy to soldiers, in a surprise visit to Stamford Elementary School.
STAMFORD, Vt. — When Easter came around this year, 4-year-old Ian Brule didn't want his candy. Instead, Brule wanted them to go to his "Cousin Arich" in Afghanistan and the other "brave soldiers that protect us from the bad guys."
"He's nice, he's such a sweetheart," said Army Spc. Arich Erdeski, who arrived in Stamford on May 22 after an 8-month stint in eastern Afghanistan.
Brule got a surprise during reading time at Stamford Elementary School when 20-year-old Erdeski visited on Thursday afternoon. After a long embrace, Erdeski kneeled down for a brief conversation.
"Thank you for the candy you sent me," Erdeski said inside his old prekindergarten classroom.
"You're welcome," said Brule, who seemed surprised and nervous.
Erdeski's friend Brett Denning introduced him to his relative Brule and they got along right away, and although not related by blood, consider each other family.
"He's adopted Arich as his cousin," said Patty Erdeski, Arich's mother and the school's cafeteria coordinator.
However, with Erdeski's job comes the travel to distant lands.
"I told Ian that I was going ... He was upset," Erdeski said.
Those feelings turned into charity and an action that Principal Gregory Betti said shows strong values at such a young age. After Brule said he wanted to donate his candy, his parents contacted Patty Erdeski, who started Boxes of Love in November 2012. The organization collects a long list of items
, including soap, food, clothes and magazines, and sends them to soldiers who don't receive care packages.
"He knew people weren't getting packages from home," Patty Erdeski said, explaining that there is a website that lists soldiers who don't receive packages.
Different gifts are sent for certain holidays, for example, Erdeski sent out four-leaf clover for St. Patrick's Day and Santa Claus hats for Christmas.
Erdeski, a 2011 graduate from Drury High School in North Adams, Mass., is enlisted in the 72nd Mobility Augmentation Company, 1st Engineer Battalion, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, which is based out of Fort Riley, Kan. He initially returned to the United States on May 7, but didn't arrive in Vermont until Tuesday. This is a short leave, however, as he will return to Kansas in June.