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Staff Sgt. James Harris looks through almost two dozen boxes of nonperishable food items donated by those attached to Aviano Air Base, Italy. The 26-year-old Georgia native spearheaded the drive through the African American Heritage Committee on base and donated more than 1,100 items to the local branch of the Italian Red Cross.
Staff Sgt. James Harris looks through almost two dozen boxes of nonperishable food items donated by those attached to Aviano Air Base, Italy. The 26-year-old Georgia native spearheaded the drive through the African American Heritage Committee on base and donated more than 1,100 items to the local branch of the Italian Red Cross. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)
Staff Sgt. James Harris looks through almost two dozen boxes of nonperishable food items donated by those attached to Aviano Air Base, Italy. The 26-year-old Georgia native spearheaded the drive through the African American Heritage Committee on base and donated more than 1,100 items to the local branch of the Italian Red Cross.
Staff Sgt. James Harris looks through almost two dozen boxes of nonperishable food items donated by those attached to Aviano Air Base, Italy. The 26-year-old Georgia native spearheaded the drive through the African American Heritage Committee on base and donated more than 1,100 items to the local branch of the Italian Red Cross. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)
Staff Sgt. James Harris, a member of the 31st Force Support Squadron, spearheaded a food drive celebrating Black History Month that will wind up helping those in need off base in the areas around Aviano Air Base, Italy.
Staff Sgt. James Harris, a member of the 31st Force Support Squadron, spearheaded a food drive celebrating Black History Month that will wind up helping those in need off base in the areas around Aviano Air Base, Italy. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)
People stationed at Aviano Air Base donated more than 1,100 items of nonperishable food for those in need off base during a drive sponsored by Aviano's African American Heritage Committee.
People stationed at Aviano Air Base donated more than 1,100 items of nonperishable food for those in need off base during a drive sponsored by Aviano's African American Heritage Committee. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — A food drive designed to bring attention to the achievements of Black Americans will end up helping people from other cultures and ethnicities.

Staff. Sgt. James Harris donated more than 1,100 nonperishable items to the Pordenone chapter of the Italian Red Cross on Friday. The food was collected through a monthlong campaign celebrating Black History Month on base, with many people dropping off an item or two into a box outside the commissary.

“I am amazed,” the 26-year-old Georgia native said Thursday, while surveying almost two dozen boxes of donated goods temporarily stored on base. “I didn’t think we would come up with this much. I thought I might have to buy some extra stuff myself.”

Tech. Sgt. Edward Adade, president of the African American Heritage Committee at Aviano, said his group was looking for ways to not only promote Black History Month in February around base, but increase its activities in general.

So, in addition to participating in a panel discussion and other official events, members read stories about Black history at the library and gathered funds to award a $1,500 scholarship to a high school senior.

Harris suggested a food drive, which Adade said he thought was a good idea from the start.

“We, as service members, are very fortunate to have a steady paycheck during this (pandemic) crisis,” Adade said.

Harris grew up in a military family. His mother served 21 years in the Army. He said it’s the first time he’s run such a drive, though he had participated in others elsewhere. Word spread around base. A good chunk of the donations came from high school students and their families.

Giovanni Attanaglia, president of the Pordenone chapter of the Italian Red Cross, said the donated food will be distributed to more than 150 families. Some have had their situations change dramatically because of the pandemic. Others are some of the thousands of refugees Italy has taken in over the last few years from Africa or the Middle East.

“This contribution is extremely appreciated for two main reasons,” Attanaglia said. “The first of which, is this tangible aid will allow us to increase our help to those in need.

“Additionally, this contribution cements the relationship between the Italian and American communities. The Italian Red Cross looks forward to continuing our relationship with Aviano Air Base.”

The food donation follows a substantial gift of medical supplies a week earlier from the base to Italian hospitals in nearby Pordenone and Sacile. Italian media reports indicated that more than $160,000 in supplies were donated.harris.kent@stripes.com Twitter: @kharris4stripes

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