This article originally appeared in the winter 2016 Harker Magazine
Harker students sent cards to more than 100 service members this year via Operation Gratitude, and many more in uniform enjoyed treats courtesy of Halloween candy donations.
Grade 3 students have been sending cards to those serving in the military for years, and this year the effort included grade 6 students. According to its website, Operation Gratitude sends 200,000-plus care packages to veterans, first responders, recruits, wounded heroes, care givers and overseas U.S. service members every year.
Elise Robichaud, grade 3 English teacher, pioneered the outreach effort to honor those in the military. Each year, she gathers the names of relatives of Harker students, faculty and staff who are serving and arranges for third graders to make cards for them.
One Saturday afternoon in September, in a parent-driven effort, sixth graders gathered at school to make cards for Operation Gratitude. About two dozen students produced about 40 cards. That was just the opening volley in thisyear’s efforts to fill packages and bring smiles to the faces of those deployed overseas.
Then in early October, Robichaud started her third grade classes working on cards for military personnel. This year, they sent cards to 70 Harker relations, as well as a batch of cards to Operation Gratitude for that organization to distribute.
Harker students also contributed Halloween candy to Operation: Care and Comfort, a Bay Area organization that sends goodies to adopted units overseas. “This year I collaborated with my former room parent Robin Feinman-Marino,” Robichaud said. “I had her daughter, Sofie (grade 4), in my homeroom last year, and her cousin is currently serving. They were asking for extra Halloween candy, so we happily stepped up. The children in third grade, and some from grades 4 and 5, filled up three giant tubs with Halloween candy.”
Each year Robichaud recruits speakers to come talk to the students about how much it means to get cards and other items from students. “Last year we had former Harker teacher and retired colonel Ray Fowler visit (he was a submarine-hunting pilot during the Cold War) and Col. Patrick Shea (a doctor in the U.S. Air Force), brother of chef Matt Shea, visit,” said Robichaud. “This year I organized another visit from the colonel. He came on Nov. 8, right before Veterans Day, to discuss the importance of veterans and to thank the children for their cards.”
Robichaud noted that the recent contentious election left students with questions about basic freedoms and the outreach helped drive home some basic democratic ideals. The project “helped to explain to the children that we live in this great country where everyone can have different opinions and where people vote on their leaders,” Robichaud said. “However, we would not have that freedom unless we had these amazing people who were willing to serve in our military and defend our country. I told them that not everyone in the world can enjoy these freedoms, but we can because of our amazing military and their sacrifices.”
Robichaud said the response to the student efforts has been overwhelming. “This year,” she noted, “we had a special video message sent from Commander Mike Kent, uncle to one of my students.” And San Francisco 49er tight end Garrett Celek, a 49ers service award winner, signed a football and sent a personalized video message for the students to keep up the good work.
“I have incredible stories from parents who told me that this was the first time they have connected with a [serving] relative,” added Robichaud. “A co-worker told me that the children’s cards brought her Marine husband and his tough buddies to tears.”