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updated: 11/6/2013 8:03 PM

Bloomingdale dentists, Palatine students collect candy for troops

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  • Dr. Adam Szatkowski of Associated Dental Care in Bloomingdale is surrounded by nearly 500 pounds of candy that will be shipped to U.S. troops through Operation Gratitude, a California-based charity.

       Dr. Adam Szatkowski of Associated Dental Care in Bloomingdale is surrounded by nearly 500 pounds of candy that will be shipped to U.S. troops through Operation Gratitude, a California-based charity.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

 
 

Walk into almost any dentist's office and there's some stuff you expect to see.

The signs encouraging you to floss. The big chairs and those lights they swing over you when the doc examines your molars. Drawers full of toothbrushes.

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What you don't expect to find is bags and bags of candy. Roughly 500 pounds of it.

That, however, is exactly what's greeting patients this week when they enter the offices of Associated Dental Care in Bloomingdale.

So what in the name of all things Snickers is going on here?

"It's job security," marketing director Lauren Carr says.

She's kidding.

Carr says the folks at Associated Dental are always looking for ways to give back to the community, and this year they decided to collect candy that then could be packaged and sent to our troops through a California-based organization called Operation Gratitude.

The idea is simple: With Halloween behind us, the office's four dentists and 25 support people are asking patients and others to bring in leftover sweets and offering a reward for those who do: $1 a pound for up to five pounds. If you're a patient at the center and bring in candy, you also receive raffle tickets to enter a drawing for a 55-inch LED TV.

The program runs through Saturday and, really, was supposed to be fairly routine.

And then came Wednesday morning.

Carr says she was innocently sitting at her desk, pulling together plans for a program called Dentistry from the Heart, where area dentists provide a free day of service, when a co-worker put a Post-it note on her desk that someone wanted to bring in some extra candy.

Nice, you know? The office already had collected about 25 pounds and adding a few bags more would be a good thing.

Then Carr looked at the note a little more closely. If she didn't say "Yikes," she should have.

Enter Tammy Miceli of Inverness, a mom and member of the sixth-grade committee at Marion Jordan School in Palatine. Last year she came up with the idea of asking every student in the school to turn in their extra Halloween candy to send out to troops through the Yellow Ribbon Support Group.

But that Palatine-based organization recently closed after sending roughly 28,000 care packages to military personnel over the past 10 years.

So Miceli began looking for a new group to work with and through the wonders of the Internet came upon Associated Dental Care.

When she arrived Wednesday morning, she brought in a few bags of candy students had collected. And then a few bags more. And then a few more.

By the time she was done, she had delivered 464 pounds of treats.

"I was really surprised to find somebody who would take all 464 pounds," she says.

Miceli says she got kind of used to hauling the candy around, first from school to her house ("It was sitting on the dining room table and I was afraid I would crush it," she says) and then to the dentist's office.

Her school's donation may be just the start. Even as Carr was talking to a reporter, more candy was arriving at the office from other sources.

Once the collection ends Saturday, Carr says the staff will help divvy up the treats into boxes that don't exceed 50 pounds and send them off to Operation Gratitude, where Director of Operations Rich Hernandez and his team will be waiting in a National Guard armory in Van Nuys.

Hernandez says his organization, founded in 2003, has sent more than 100,000 care packages filled with snacks, entertainment items and letters of appreciation to U.S. troops stationed around the world, as well as to their children left behind and Wounded Warriors.

Each package is individually addressed to a specific member of the military and, ironically enough, includes toothpaste and a toothbrush.

He said he's expecting "an onslaught" of candy over the next several days and the group hopes to collect more than 267,000 pounds by early December.

While it's likely those who receive the packages might sample a Milky Way or two, most of the candy is actually used as a bartering tool, he says, to help our troops better connect with civilians in their theater of operations. They use it to learn the location of land mines. They use it to garner information about ammunition supplies. They use it to put a smile on the face of a kid.

"It's more than just candy," Hernandez says. "It's a tool that helps save lives."

The care packages also are a "great morale boost for the troops," he says.

"Depending on their family background, this might be the only package some of our troops ever receive," he says. "When mail call comes and suddenly somebody calls their name for the first time and they get a box from us, it really means something."

If you'd like to contribute to the cause, drop off your extra candy at Associated Dental Care, 183 S. Bloomingdale Road, Suite 202, Bloomingdale. You can call the office at (630) 894-5180 or visit mydentist.net for more information.

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