Superior students have been sending personal messages and artwork to area veterans for years through the Red Cross Holiday Mail for Heroes project. Their contributions were recognized Friday, Aug. 7, when the American Red Cross Serving Northern Minnesota and Douglas County named the district its service partner of the year.
“I picture all the teachers who have spent time helping the elementary school kids put the little red and white pieces of paper onto the artwork and put the little stars on and write the little message,” said Dan Williams, the organization's executive director. “It takes patience, it takes energy and in the long run, really what it is is about an understanding about service and thankfulness.”
The Red Cross program provides a pack of three handwritten cards to local veterans and service members, including the 950th Engineering Company, 148th Fighter Wing and area nursing homes, during the holidays.
“I just think it’s great to have an 80-year-old guy that served in the Korean War get a bundle of cards, and one of them’s from an elementary school in Superior,” Williams said.
Superior School District Administrator Amy Starzecki said the Red Cross partners with the district for emergency preparedness planning. She was happy to learn more about the mail project.
“I think it’s fantastic,” Starzecki said. “My own son is in the military. I have a special place in my heart for that.”
Bryant Elementary School students have been involved since Williams approached then-principal Kate Tesch in 2013.
Tesch, who now serves as the district’s director of continuous improvement and assessment, said the school got involved because staff members at Bryant had connections to the military and thought it would benefit the students.
“Who doesn't love some artwork and heartfelt messages from children, especially around the holidays?” Tesch asked.
Other elementary schools have joined in, including Cooper, Lake Superior and Northern Lights; juniors at Superior High School are encouraged to write notes of their own.
Don Dembroski, 11th grade social studies teacher, said it's important for students to have the opportunity to thank veterans for their service.
The cards aren’t graded, and students do not receive extra credit for writing one.
“Most students choose to participate, and some really like to get creative and use their artistic skills and some even fill out multiple cards,” Dembroski said. “It's really impressive and heartwarming to see so many of our students be so authentic in their appreciation of our veterans.”
The district places a lot of emphasis on giving back to the community, Starzecki said, and the holiday mail program offers one more way to do that.
Since 2013, the Red Cross has received more than 3,500 holiday cards from Superior students, including nearly 700 in 2019. Thanks to them, other letter writers and sponsors the program has survived. Williams said the Red Cross made the decision to stop supporting the nationwide program in 2014. Local chapters could choose to continue it on their own.
“We think this is not only worth doing, it’s worth overdoing,” Williams said.
The Red Cross is seeking donors willing to provide card stock and printing costs, as well as volunteers to write out cards. It's not too early to get started. Williams said some groups, like the 950th Engineers, only meet for drill every other month. Contact the Red Cross at 218-722-0071, Dan.email@example.com or via Facebook for more information.