GALAX — There is no better understanding of the Christmas song, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” than within the context of soldiers away from home. Oakland Elementary School Kindergarten came away with a new perspective of the holiday through Operation “Santa Soldier” Stockings.
According to teacher and project organizer Sheila Hommema, 100 Christmas stockings were stuffed by students for soldiers on the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. Students prefaced what was to be numerous trips around tables laden with treats, playing cards, DVDs, CDs puzzlebooks, unbreakable ornaments, candy, stationary by saying in unison, “We are thankful for our soldiers. They keep us safe and provide us hope.” Personal cards made by students and staff were also placed in stockings.
“I’ve been doing this since 2013,” said Hommema, who learned first hand when family couldn’t be home for Christmas during their tour of duty. “We want them to be at home but we know they can’t. I thought how can I teach children Christmas isn’t about getting but giving?”
She said this year’s choice of recipients came about through a fellow professional honors service group (Delta Kappa Gamma member LeAnn Bunch) with ties to an officer (Commander Len Bunch) on the nuclear ship. Students got to find out more about the ship by directly asking questions via Skype. Students asked how the ship makes clean water and what it does in storms. They learned food and supplies are typically transported from one ship to another by helicopter.
“All you have to do is make them aware of what is out there and they feel that one day they can do this. It’s about a choice,” Hommema said. “The kids were like, our stockings will be their Christmas. It’s neat to see they can imagine someone else and what they are going thorough.”
She noted soldiers families can also send Christmas items.
She praised efforts of parents (such as Russ and Lorraine Cox) and credited the success of the effort to local support including School Superintendent Dr. Strader Blankenship, Brian Horton of Horton’s Supermarket, R.J. Pizza and Open Door Christian Church. George Crockett of Crockett Home Improvement, for instance, is helping this year with the cost of mailing. Other staffers and volunteers helping with the project included Crystal Lineberry, Deborah Cook, Kassandra Fuller, Kecia Delp and Heather Shockley.
“We hope to continue this every year,” Hommema said. “We want to continue this connection with soldiers because they are so important to everyone. I’ve had parents donate whose children are now in the third, second and first grade. They’re older siblings were involved the first time. They want to keep this going.”
The next step for Hommema’s students is to find out the hometowns of stocking recipients and connect them (with string) on a map to Oakland Elementary. She also plans to incorporate more math and social studies into these activities to fire young imaginations. Volunteers are being sought to help with next year’s effort.
David Broyles may be be reached at 276-779-4013 or on Twitter@CarrollNewsDave.