I just finished up one of the best weeks of my entire year that all started four years ago with a trip to the principal’s office. No, it wasn’t my then third grader sitting across from the principal, it was me! Of course, it helped to have my friend Pam sitting in there with me to propose a new holiday tradition for the third graders. Instead of making the traditional Gingerbread Houses, a project for them to take home for themselves, we wanted them to learn about giving to others during the holidays. We wanted the kids to collect supplies, write letters and pack boxes to send to our soldiers serving overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan. We would call it SOS-Santas for our Soldiers. When we were given the green light to make it happen, we went straight to Mrs. Gruener's office to start planning!
Fast forward four years; as I sit and write, 80 boxes left Friendswood yesterday morning headed overseas from our Westwood-Bales campus! After that first successful year, we expanded the project to include all of our students on campus and ended up with 129 boxes. People in line at the Post Office gave us donations for postage so we could get them all shipped off that morning. Pam and I still head up this endeavor and I was even given a nickname by Mrs. Gruener - Elfy.
Two weeks before Thanksgiving, in conjunction with Veteran’s Day, Mrs. Gruener sends a letter to all of our school's families asking if they have a relative or friend serving overseas that we could support with a care package. Along with this, a note is sent home listing what the soldiers like to get in these packages: Beef jerkey, crackers, nuts, granola bars, cards, and crossword puzzle books, coffee packets, etc. Our local Rotary club partners with us to provide postage for the first 35 boxes and we created an Adopt-a-Box option so families can donate the funds to cover postage for the other boxes.
The Friday before our Thanksgiving break, Mrs. Gruener gathers each grade level together in the cafeteria to write letters and draw pictures for the soldiers. Her sample starts out “Dear Hero” or "Dear Soldier." I was fortunate enough to be there to offer help with spelling, especially for the younger ones. From kindergarten to third grade, they all worked hard and took their task seriously. At the end of the morning, we had several hundred beautifully-illustrated thank-you notes to include with our supplies. Counting the ones that our fourth and fifth graders did as optional homework, we had nearly 800 personal notes, the highlight of our care packages.
We lined up the large APO postal boxes across the stage and the students brought their donations to the cafeteria. I was lucky enough to be there each morning to greet those sweet friends and thank them for their donations. Seeing the joy of giving on their faces was such a reward!
Since we had a few cash donations, Pam and I had the opportunity to do some shopping over the Thanksgiving break to help complete those boxes. While we waited in line at a local drugstore with two carts full of groceries, a couple in front of us inquired what we were doing with so much stuff! We told them about our project and they were touched because they had a relative in the military. After the gentleman checked out, he handed me his change ($5.50) and asked us to please use this for more supplies. The lady behind us heard our story and gave us $20 toward our basket. This project is one that touches everyone who hears about it.
Now it’s the Monday after Thanksgiving and Mrs. Gruener, Pam and I have gathered in the cafeteria with a group of eight parent volunteers to get the supplies sorted and boxed up. We worked for five hours sorting, rearranging, making sure each box had its share of gum, sunflower seeds, beef jerkey and toiletries, writing customs forms and sealing up boxes. Nerf footballs are a favorite of the troops so each box had a football in it!
Tuesday morning I have an appointment at the post office for the 80 boxes we're about to load into two vehicles. Our assistant principal rounds up a second-grade class who does an assembly line from the cafeteria to the suburbans in record time!
Ready to go, our school secretary asks if we need help at the post office unloading. Having learned from our past experience, I tell her it always has a way of working out and boy did it this year! As we walk into the post office, I see our town’s Chief of Police standing in line. Knowing he is a former Marine, I tell him what we are doing and ask him if we could take his picture with the boxes for our website. Not only does he agree to the picture, he proceeds to help us unload all 80 boxes. Thank you Chief!
Sending each box overseas requires customs forms paperwork which the post office has to process one at a time. Richard had a smile on his face when I handed him that first box and was still smiling as we finished box #80. Thank you Richard!
This was truly a community effort and I was blessed to be a part of such a wonderful project. This is a testament that people can make a difference, one person at a time, one box at a time. We are making an impact on each of the 27 soldiers that will receive a box from 'home' in the next couple of weeks. As long as there are troops overseas, we will continue to express our gratitude for their service and sacrifice our annual SOS campaign.
This project is such a wonderful way to teach compassion and gratitude, so I'm linking the post up with Maria Dismondy's Make A Difference Monthly campaign. Click the graphic below to go to her blog and post your favorite way to teach tomorrow's leaders to be compassionate citizens. How many acts of compassion did you see in Nancy's guest post?
How will you be the difference today?
How will you be the difference today?