It’s always great to receive a package at Christmastime. That’s especially true if you’re halfway around the world and won’t be home for the holidays.
About 370 students in grades 1-8 and their teachers at Holy Rosary’s Religious Education Program in Hawthorne renewed their now annual effort of putting together care packages to send to the men and women serving in the Armed forces in Afghanistan, accompanied by handmade cards from the children.
They stuffed stockings with treats such as granola bars, hard candy and small packages of cookies, toiletries, socks and items that could help them pass the time such as playing cards, small board games and magazines.
The packages should arrive in time for Christmas, said Aura Zelaya, Holy Rosary’s religious education coordinator.
“So this is our way of acknowledging them, thanking them and letting them know that someone at home is thinking about them,” Zelaya said.
Jenn Florio, one of the program’s teachers, started the effort a few years ago after learning that Cathy Praino of the Bronx started sending these holiday care packages to the troops following her nephew’s death in Iraq in late 2004.
“We’re going to make a lot of men and women happy and hopefully they’ll get through the holidays without their families and we’ll be like their second family,” Florio said.
Last Wednesday and Thursday, the older students created the cards using construction paper, crayons and markers to send brief messages to the members of the military while the younger children stuffed the stockings. There will be more than 300 stockings that will be transported to the Korony American Legion Post 253 Auxiliary in the Bronx this week where Praino will collect and package the stockings for shipment, Florio said.
U.S. Navy Seabee Lou Casale, who served in Vietnam and has been a Holy Rosary parishioner for 48 years, told the students that their efforts will be deeply appreciated by the troops. Anyone who is so far away from home for Christmas can’t help but have their spirits lifted when receiving the packages, he said.
“I was (in Vietnam) twice, I was there for Christmas twice and this is really a special time and I know what these guys halfway around the world are feeling and it’s really a good thing what you guys are doing because it was something,” Casale said. “It’s following Jesus’s teachings when he says ‘Love your neighbor as I have loved you.’”
The students making the cards the message of helping others is satisfying.
“It makes me feel really good inside knowing that if I help others it’s going to make them feel better, and if I make them feel better it’s going to make them feel happy and I just want them to be happy,” said student Emily Bloom.
“It makes me really happy to know that such a little card is going such a long way to a very important person that’s serving our country,” said another student, Kelly McCloskey.
Zelaya, who is in her first year as coordinator, that said after Florio talked to her about the school’s previous Christmastime stocking stuffer efforts for the military, Holy Rosary opened up the donations to the entire parish. While the servicemen and servicewomen each will receive a few treats along with some practical items, knowing that people are thinking about them will be a big boost.
“It wasn’t so much what they received, it was the fact that somebody cared about them and actually thought about them during the holidays and they were so happy to get the package,” Zelaya said.