Solon Springs fourth-graders packed 26 boxes full of cheer Friday for 15 active military members as part of their annual Boxes for Our Troops project. The recipients include children, nephews, friends and former students of community members. Three of the 15 are serving overseas.
"My son is in the United States Marine Corps. I have two nephews in the Marine Corps," said fourth-grade teacher Donna Smith. "We started it the year I just knew he wouldn't be home for Christmas and my nephews weren't going to be home. And I figured if they weren't going to be home, how many other military personnel weren't going to be home, to try to send something to them to give them a little love from home."
The number of boxes has been growing every year, as has the number of active duty military personnel who receive holiday cheer from the students.
"Like I always say, our little school is doing mighty big things," Smith said. "Just because you're a small school doesn't mean you can't make a big difference in the world around us."
Community members have provided names and addresses, as well as items and money for postage.
"I just thank them for their support," Smith said.
The activity made a personal impact on some fourth-graders.
Josey Botner's father guarded nuclear missiles in the Air Force. She said she tears up during the annual Veterans Day program at the school.
"I'm really proud of my dad," Botner said.
Emmett Patel's father served in the Army during the Iraq War.
"I feel a lot like I know what it feels like for the troops, because my dad tells me about the Army when he was in the service," Patel said.
Brody Carlson's friend, Nicholas Hinnenkamp, is currently in boot camp. He's slated to receive one of the packages.
"It feels good to do something for someone else who has been keeping us free and everything else for our country," Carlson said.
He stenciled an ostrich, duck and other animals onto his card for Hinnenkamp. The two share a love of critters, including pet ducks.
"I just want to say that whenever he's going through tough times, I will always be there with him," Carlson said.
Allanah Priem worked on a card for Solon Springs alumnus Caitlin Armstrong.
"I want to say 'Thank you for being there for us and helping us survive,'" the fourth-grader said. "Cause they don't have to do this but they choose to."
Members of the Lockman-Jensen American Legion Post 499, based in Gordon, stopped by to watch the students pack and repack boxes until everything fit.
"I know they packed boxes before, a few years back, but this is tremendous," said Barbara McDaniel, a Navy veteran and member of both the legion and its auxiliary.
"I can recall times I was in the service it seems all we got was cookies from home," said Navy veteran Russ Hagberg, vice-commander of Post 499. "So I think this is a wonderful surprise when they receive something like this and it's a good lesson for these young people."
During the week, students turned serving sizes into math problems, beefed up their writing and drawing skills making cards and learned how good it feels to help others.
"I think sometimes we think of ourselves so much during the holiday season and it's a good way for the kids to be putting their energy to think of somebody that may not be home with their family and to realize too that not all families get to spend Christmas together," Smith said.
The class decided to send at least two boxes to each of the three overseas military personnel, and to as many of the stateside addresses as possible.
The thank-yous they've received from past recipients prove the military care packages are appreciated.
"And the cards. They love the cards," Smith said. "The candy will fade away; the candy, you know, they'll eat, but the cards they'll keep forever."