Of all the boys who join the Boy Scouts, very few reach the final rank of Eagle Scout. And few of those earn widespread attention for their service to the community.
Matthew Barris, a Boy Scout from Blue Springs, is an exception. Barris was invited to display his Eagle Scout service project at the National Airline History Museum in Kansas City on Saturday during the Flag Day Salute to Veterans event hosted by Jackson County.
He calls it the “Drop Box,” and it works a lot like a clothing donation or recycling bin. At the Drop Box, the public can honorably discard its worn-out and weathered American flags. Troop 362 collects the flags, and the Scouts retire them respectfully around a fire during campouts. The inspiration came from his grandfather, who created something similar in New Jersey from a postbox in 2000.
“It pays homage to (his grandfather), who was a very patriotic man and took it very seriously,” said Matthew's mother, Patricia Barris.
Barris moved with his family to Blue Springs from New Jersey years ago. He was just 1 year old. This year, at 18, he's finding success. In May, he graduated from Blue Springs High School, and he earned the final rank of Eagle Scout. What's more, his Eagle project, the Drop Box, is having a positive impact on the community.
Barris created the Drop Box from a newspaper vending machine donated to him by the Kansas City Star. In the winter months, he primed and painted it to resemble the American Flag and placed a sign in its door that reads, “For Flags Only.” He set it up in the lot at the Elks Lodge in Blue Springs, and, in just a few months, he had collected 60 flags to be retired.
“It's cool seeing how the symbol of our nation has been through so much,” said Barris.
Barris's design caught the attention of the country administrator's office during the court of honor ceremony at which Barris was awarded the rank of Eagle Scout, according to Troop 362 leader Tony Schamel. The County Administrator told Barris that the Drop Box would make a great addition to the Jackson County Courthouse, and he was invited to display it at the Flag Day event hosted by Jackson County on Saturday.
“It's turning into one of my biggest memories,” said Barris. “I didn't expect it to get this big.” The flag retirement ceremony takes place during troop campouts. They start a fire onto which the flags are placed. The Scouts watch and discuss what the flags represent. “(The retirement ceremony) is very solemn,” said Schamel.
“(The flag) means freedom,” said Barris. “It shows how all of these people gave up their lives to protect it.”
On the morning after a ceremony, when the fire has died, the Scouts reach into the ashes and retrieve the grommets from the flags retired. Like a dog tag, the grommets are returned to the flag's owner, or, when they don't know who donated a flag, the troop adds the grommets to their own flag.
Barris didn't expect the Drop Box to be so well-received. Currently, there is only one, and Barris is unsure whether he will create more. He will attend Metropolitan Community College-Blue River in the fall on an A+ scholarship. He said he would keep the Drop Box alive if it's what the community desires.