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Gulf Elementary students write letters to soldiers

By Staff | May 25, 2010

Twenty-two classrooms at Gulf Elementary spent Tuesday morning composing letters to U.S. military personnel stationed overseas.
The letter writing campaign was overseen by BJ’s Wholesale Club in Cape Coral, and assisted by four local veterans, to celebrate Military Appreciation Month and make sure those in harms way know they are appreciated back home.
According to Sandra Aguilar, community relations specialist for the retail store, BJ’s is teaming up with a non-profit called Operation Gratitude and donating $1 for every letter written — the amount not to exceed $50,000. The California-based organization’s mission will send care packages to military personnel overseas.
BJ’s Wholesale Club also chooses to work with schools each year through its Adopt-A-School Program. Last year it sponsored Trafalgar Elementary and this year it will work with Gulf Elementary to enhance curriculum programs and provide new opportunities for students.
Aguilar explained there are many troops who never receive letters or packages.
“We have all the BJ’s on the eastern coast doing this,” she said. “This is what the troops really enjoy.”
George Colom, 78, served in the Korean War and volunteered alongside Jerry Montagnino, 78, to answer student questions after they finished writing their letters. Colom belongs to a number of veterans organizations, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Korean War Veterans Association and the Marine Corps League.
The two spend much of their time at the Invest in America’s Veterans Foundation opened by Ralph Santillo on Del Prado Boulevard. Montagnino said the foundation helps veterans in many ways, ranging from coordinating medical care to getting a hot meal. Santillo asked the veterans if they were available to meet with the students.
The two veterans explained to the students how important it is for troops to receive correspondence.
“It gives you inspiration and something to fight for,” said Montagnino.
Colom’s son served in Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm and said he remembers to the day when a group of students from California sent him letters.
“People serving over there want to hear from people at home,” said Colom to a group of students. “You might find out some of these people will write back and then you’ll have a pen pal.”
The two veterans also stressed how important it is to get an education. Montagnino said he joined the military when he was 15, and struggled the rest of his life to finish his education.
Students participating in the letter-writing campaign were given worksheets that read “Happy Memorial Day” with an American flag in the shape of a heart, which they filled in with colored markers.
Taylor Buchholtz, a second grade student, said she asked the troops whether they missed their family.
“Because they have been there a very long time,” she said.
She also recalls her mother mentioning that one of her relatives was a veteran.
Another second grade student, Brian Downey, said he wants to be in the Army when he gets older. The soldier who receives his letter will read about how much Downey appreciates what he or she has done for the country.
“We honor you and we appreciate what you did and what you are doing,” he said.
Patricia Geer’s class also designed an American flag poster and made paper eagles.
“We made eagles and put a flag together yesterday, and for the stars we used our fingers,” she said.
All of the letters will be presented to BJ’s at the end of the week and then mailed out. On Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., the store in Cape Coral will have a mailbox on display where members of the community can also slip in letters they have written to the troops.
Donnie Hopper, principal at Gulf Elementary, said the school tries each year to do something for Memorial Day. They hosted the letter campaign this week because there is no school for Memorial Day on Monday.
“Every year we do something for Memorial Day, we do different activities to salute the veterans,” he said. “The teaming with BJ’s has been great.”