GLADSTONE - For many servicemen and women missing their families this holiday season, the holidays may be just a little brighter thanks to cards they will be receiving from students at W.C. Cameron Elementary.
"We don't know who's going to get our cards, if it's somebody that's on on active deployment or somebody who is recovering," said Cameron first grade teacher Paulette Larson.
Every year Gladstone students create about 500 cards that are sent through the American Red Cross' Holiday Mail for Heroes program. The program delivers cards to veterans, military families, and active duty service members at hospitals and installations around the world.
Ilsa Matthes | Daily Press
Students in Paulette Larson’s first grade class work on Christmas cards they will be sending to servicemen and women this holiday season. Every year the students send about 500 cards through the American Red Cross’ Holiday Mail for Heroes program.
Larson began having her students send Christmas cards to service members when she was a teacher at Jones Elementary about 10 years ago. At the time, her class had a pen pal relationship with a sailor aboard the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt. The sailor, who communicated with Larson's class through two deployments, would distribute as many cards as possible to the 4,000 people aboard the ship. However, when the sailor's second deployment ended he was no longer able to deliver the cards, and Larson and her classes began sending cards through the Red Cross' program.
"(The kids) enjoy it. We talk about how everyone isn't always home for Christmas, what it means to be deployed, and then what that would be like if it was them or a family member," Larson.
For many of the students, the only service members they know are grandparents or extended family members.
"My Grandpa G was in World War II, but he quit," said first grader Heather Olsen.
Other students are learning first hand what it means to have a family member in the military.
"My dad's going to be in the Army," said Lucy DeGroot. "One day - if it's going to be for Christmas, I don't know - one day he's going to be gone for 14 days."
While Larson provides her students with preprinted cards for them to color and sign, some of the students go above and beyond when it comes to making the cards for military personnel and veterans.
"I have some very artistic kids in my class this year and they love to draw," said Larson, adding that some of the students even decorated the box that sits in the hall to collect cards from other classes.
Sometimes the students write upbeat messages inside the cards to make them more personal.
"I try to give them a few minutes at the end of the day to work on a card," said Larson.
Because the cards are only signed with first names and the Red Cross prohibits including information that could be used to contact the sender, the children will not receive responses from the military personnel they are writing to this holiday season.
"Our thank you is knowing we've done our part and making someone smile during the holidays," said Larson.
Even though the students will never hear from the people who receive their cards, making the cards has also given the students an opportunity to learn about what life as a service member is like.