JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH –
Home can seem even farther away for service members when they are on deployment during the holiday season, but students from a local intermediate school recently opened their hearts to narrow that distance.
Students from Elaine S. Schlather Intermediate School in the Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City Independent School District participated in Operation Shoebox, a national effort to send care packages, letters and other items to deployed members.
They spent more than a week filling U.S. Postal Service flat-rate boxes with candy, dental products, snacks, drink mixes, toiletries, reading materials and other items they brought from home, culminating in a "packing party" Dec. 9 at the school. The "shoeboxes" were then shipped to 35 deployed service members whose names were provided by Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph military personnel - or one for each of the fifth- and sixth-grade campus' 35 homerooms.
Carla Barnes, a counselor at Schlather Intermediate, said the school's participation in Operation Shoebox marked its third consecutive community service project.
"When Schlather Intermediate opened three years ago, staff decided that we would do an annual service project in honor of Elaine S. Schlather, who had a heart for service," she said, referring to the longtime SCUCISD educator for whom the school was named. "The first year we collected hundreds of books for Boysville of Converse. Last year, our campus raised over $5,000 for the Pennies for Pasta Leukemia Foundation. Because of the large number of students connected to the military at our school, we decided that this year we would honor our military."
Barnes said the staff chose Operation Shoebox for the school's project this year after discovering the organization online.
"They are an organization that works with individuals and groups to adopt troops to send care packages to them," she said.
Because the school wanted to impact the local community, Barnes said she contacted the Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Public Affairs Office, which referred her to Staff Sgt. Joshua Clements, Randolph Readiness Support Committee chairman and Senior Airman Brian Wing of the 902nd Logistics Readiness Squadron. "They were responsible for getting me the names of deployed individuals who would be recipients of the shoeboxes," she said.
Barnes said students worked on the project from Nov. 30 to Dec. 9. In addition to gathering items for the care packages, they brought in enough money to cover shipping costs and included a letter to each deployed member thanking them for their service.
Barnes said it is "a joy to see the project develop into something that helps students realize the importance of giving back.
"Giving back to the community teaches children to think outside of themselves," she said. "By contributing, they learn that they, too, can make the world a better place. Service projects teach the importance of connection that gives children a sense of security and values."
Barnes said this year's project gave the school an opportunity to "thank the Air Force and all military members that give daily sacrifices for that freedom."
Students' comments echoed those sentiments.
"This project gives me a chance to help deployed members when otherwise I wouldn't be able to help them, and it gives me a chance to thank them for serving our country," sixth-grader Nicholas Fulbright said.
Another sixth-grader, Isabelle Aimone, said the project "brings a little of home to the deployed members of the military."
Fifth-grader Jillian Moore said "it is cool to do this because deployed members get items mailed to them that they don't have where they are deployed."