Gifts for the familyAs people gather to bake cookies, exchange gifts and enjoy the holidays, a number of Northland families will spend the season apart from loved ones. Last week, members of the 148th Air National Guard in Duluth were deployed to Afghanistan.
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
As people gather to bake cookies, exchange gifts and enjoy the holidays, a number of Northland families will spend the season apart from loved ones.
Last week, members of the 148th Air National Guard in Duluth were deployed to Afghanistan. Their departure came just about one week before Christmas.
At the deployment ceremony, the soldiers’ families received a surprise from the students at Four Corners Elementary School: A small package wrapped in green and gold gift paper. Inside were framed photographs of the soon to be deployed service members.
Michelle Krob, a parent involvement coordinator at Four Corners Elementary School, organized the effort to bring some joy to the families of deployed troops.
“I know many students are sending gifts to troops overseas, but we wanted to do something for the families who are without their loved ones this Christmas,” Krob said.
As someone who has been without a family member during the holidays, Krob knows how difficult it can be for those who remain behind. When her husband was deployed in past years, Krob wanted a reminder of him nearby. She managed to get a copy of his military records photograph and said having the picture was very meaningful to her.
This year, Krob decided to do the same for other military families.
“When they’re deployed, (service members) go and have a picture taken for military records,” Krob said. “Not all of them were able to get their picture taken, but the ones that did get their pictures taken, we were able to get pictures printed off and we were able to fill the picture frames that were donated by our parents and staff members.”
The outpouring of support from the Four Corners community pushed the project beyond Krob’s expectations. After learning of the project to help families of troops, students and teachers showed up at school with bags full of 5 x 7 picture frames to donate. Parents and teachers donated everything for the project, from the picture frames and gift paper to the time needed to wrap and organize the gifts.
The students at Four Corners also wrote letters and cards to the families to go with the photographs. The cards, written by every class from kindergarten through fifth grade, thanked military families for their sacrifice during the holiday season.
“We have such a giving community, and is just constantly amazes me, it really does,” said Four Corners principal Patti Lindelof.
About 100 pictures frames were donated at Four Corners. Krob said she actually had more than enough frames, but the extras will not go to waste; she hopes to repeat the project next year if members are still deployed.
“I think this was a really nice thing to do for families,” Krob said. “It will be a surprise because you usually don’t see these pictures. They’re in the military database.”
When members of the 148th Fighter Wing were deployed Dec. 17, the picture frames were handed out at the ceremony. Kuhlman said the reaction from families was one of surprise and happiness.
One mother asked if she could get more copies of the photograph to send to relatives. They had never seen her son in uniform before, and she wanted them to see how handsome he looked.
“Just looking at those dads on TV, holding their kids …” Lindelof said. “These people are members of our Duluth-Superior community. Their families and friends have given up so much for us. It’s the least we can do to show we care.”
Jennifer Kuhlman, director of airmen and family readiness, helps families prepare for deployment and the soldiers’ return. She served as Krob’s contact on the Duluth airbase and took responsibility for delivering the gifts.
“People like Michelle need to be applauded,” Kuhlman said. “I know she thinks it’s just a little thing, but it really meant a lot to the families.”
Photographs are not mandatory, but Kuhlman said service members are strongly encourage to have their pictures taken before deployment. For the families left behind, a simple picture can be a reassuring connection to loved ones overseas for the holidays.
Those photographs going to families of soldiers not at the deployment ceremony were mailed or delivered in person. Kuhlman had hoped to have all of the framed photographs, about six dozen in all, delivered by Tuesday.
“It’s like Christmas threw up in my office,” she said, laughing. “But it’s a wonderful thing.”
Celebrating a holiday without a family member is never easy, but Kuhlman said small gestures of kindness can help families keep their spirits up. Whether it’s cooking a meal or shoveling a snowy sidewalk, just knowing people care and are willing to lend a hand can make a difference.
“It’s the little things that help,” Kuhlman said. “Like picture frames with pictures in them.”