Berthoud Elementary students spread holiday cheer to veterans in need
By Katie Harris
The holidays will be merrier this year for homeless and hospitalized veterans, thanks to first and second graders at Berthoud Elementary, and one community member behind it all.
Laurel Downer, president of the American Legion auxiliary in Berthoud and former employee of Berthoud El, first approached the school to help soldiers after her son, a Navy sailor, was deployed.
“It’s very important for youth to understand what soldiers and veterans are,” said Downer, when asked what motivated her to reach out to the school. In the beginning she collected hand-written letters from students and sent them overseas to her son, who then passed them along to his pastor for distribution to soldiers who didn’t receive other mail over the holidays.
This year, with her son back in the United States, Downer wanted to keep the project going but needed a new route. She found Soldiers’ Angels through an online search, and asked her contacts at Berthoud El if they’d be willing to take things one step further.
“I found this program where they could still write cards but also fill stockings,” said Downer. First and second-grade teachers agreed to send letters home with their students asking for donations for veterans.
Michelle Ostler, second-grade teacher at Berthoud El, said the letter they sent home to families requested items such as toothbrushes and toothpaste, coffee and tea, individually wrapped dry snacks, soap, and Band-Aids.
According to Downer the project was a huge success, with over 100 stockings coming back filled and ready to ship to veterans in need.
“We teachers were afraid of asking too much of our community; between the other community fundraisers, we tried to be cognizant of the various ways our generous community was already contributing,” said Ostler. She said the second graders set a goal of filling 30 stockings between all three classes, but had to go out and buy more due to the overwhelming number of donations students brought in.
“Almost every child had some sort of connection to a loved one or friend having served or currently serving in our military forces,” said Ostler. “I was genuinely moved by the joy of accomplishment and giving that our second graders exuded as we took their picture holding their contributions.”
Ostler said she hopes this service project can continue and become a new tradition. “The simple acts of kindness and support for others are life lessons that children can benefit greatly from,” she said.
Downer has no plans for giving up her mission anytime soon. “We will continue this for as long as Soldiers’ Angels continues this program,” she said. “I think it’s so important for veterans to have something kids put together. It puts an extra smile on their faces.”
More information on the Soldiers’ Angels program can be found at www.soldiersangels.org.
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