SOUTH CHINA – It began as a fall visit to Erskine Academy from an alumnus nearly 20 years after his graduation.

It turned into a schoolwide drive to collect box upon box of shampoo, soap, floss and toothpaste, along with a variety of comforts: candy, Pringles, Doritos, Double Stuf Oreos.

Now, the items collected by Erskine Academy’s 700 students are on their way to a brigade of soldiers stationed at a small isolated base in Iraq that has no running water.

The brigade is led by 2nd Lt. Geoffrey Page, a 1992 Erskine graduate whose unit’s home base is Fort Stewart, Ga.

Students assembled the first batch of items Thursday and shipped them out Friday.

Page, who grew up in Vassalboro and South China, knows that some are headed his squadron’s way, said Erskine’s guidance director, Susan LaGasse. “I think they’ll be surprised by the volume.”

When Page, 37, visited Erskine Academy in the fall, he stopped in specifically to see LaGasse, his former guidance counselor.

The two hadn’t seen each other since Page graduated.

“He’s developed into this rugged man,” LaGasse said.

Page joined the Army after leaving Erskine and was based in Hawaii for five years, said his wife, Meghan Page.

He has been through one deployment to Iraq.

He spent a full year there with the Maine Army National Guard, returning home in 2005.

When he returned, Page enrolled at the University of Southern Maine so he could become an Army officer. He earned a communications degree in 2009.

LaGasse told Page to keep in touch with his Erskine teachers so they would know if he got deployed again.

Sure enough, Meghan Page contacted LaGasse in December, about a month after Geoffrey arrived in Iraq for his second tour.

The second lieutenant wondered if a handful of Erskine students might be interested in communicating with his platoon members and shipping over some needed staples, LaGasse said.

“It really started at the small level, one teacher to her student,” said Erskine Headmaster Michael McQuarrie. “We thought, maybe this is something the whole school could gather around.”

With that, Erskine put its advisory groups — 12 to 14 students who meet daily with the same teacher throughout their four years — into action.

“He’s so thankful that they’re doing this,” Meghan Page said of her husband. “It’s great to see kids helping like that.”

Over the course of two weeks last month, each advisory group focused on collecting goods the soldiers requested, from floss to Uncle Ben’s Ready Rice packets, from foot powder to chips and salsa.

Student organizations sponsored two dress-down day fundraisers that, together, yielded almost $600 to cover shipping costs.

And students wrote the soldiers letters, thanking them for their service and asking them questions. They enclosed pictures.

The result was enough goods to split into four multiple-box shipments.

A different student organization plans to prepare a shipment each month until all of the items are sent.

“We were really very successful,” said Diane Dow, Erskine’s school nurse and the primary organizer of the collection. “They might be quite surprised.”

Most of the goods are meant for members of Page’s platoon who don’t have family members and friends regularly sending them care packages, Meghan Page said.

“He knows how helpful it is to have stuff sent over to you,” she said, “even if it’s a pack of gum.”

On Thursday, four members of Erskine’s health careers student organization packed up goods for the first shipment.

“I didn’t think we’d get this much stuff,” said Erica LeSiege, a 16-year-old junior from China whose cousin fought in Afghanistan.

As the soldiers receive their packages, Erskine could come to occupy a special place in their lives.

“Some soldiers don’t really have family to send them stuff,” said Brittany Reigle, a 16-year-old junior from Palermo. “This is basically like a family sending them a care package.”