Local Catholic schools hope to make the holiday season a bit brighter for members of the U.S. Navy deployed far from home.
Schools from the Diocese of San Bernardino are teaming up to write letters of encouragement, send care packages and ship small Christmas trees to a group of medical corpsmen and others deployed with the First Marine Expeditionary force aboard the USS Essex, USS Rushmore and USS Anchorage.
Tom Strickland, principal at St. James School in Perris, organized the effort. Strickland’s son Kevin is one of the medical corpsmen on the ships that will receive the boxes filled with toiletries, magazines, books, snacks, headphones and other goodies. Strickland said the desire to show gratitude is the reason behind the effort.
“They are doing stuff every day for our benefit that no one knows about,” he said of the men and women serving. “That is the reason I wanted to do this. We want to say, “We are thinking of you and are still appreciative of what you are doing for us.’”
Besides St. James, schools participating in the care-package effort include St. Edwards in Corona; St. Catherine of Alexandria in Riverside; St. Jeanne De Lestonnac in Temecula; and Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Riverside.
St. Thomas in Riverside; St. Hyacinth in San Jacinto; and Riverside’s Notre Dame High School joined St. James, St. Edwards and St. Catherine of Alexandria to provide donated Christmas trees for the ships.
The Scottsville, New York-based Stokoe Farms agreed to provide small Christmas trees to be used to decorate the ships, part of its Trees for Troops program. Strickland also reached out to Valley Resource Center in Murrieta, a nonprofit group whose biggest philanthropic program involves sending care packages to military members.
Raven Hilden, founder and chief executive officer of Valley Resource Center, said her organization started shipping packages a couple of years ago after a woman asked for help sending boxes to her husband and son – both deployed at the same time. The nonprofit group started with a few boxes monthly and now ships hundreds, with the help of 50 volunteers.
“The need was definitely there,” Hilden said. “We want to show troops that the community is thinking about them, supporting them and will be here when they return.”
Strickland said participants have raised around $1,400 to give to Valley Resource Center for to help pay for shipping.
“We are trying to teach our kids to give back,” Strickland said. “Even the little ones come in and drop in a quarter or a dollar. We are going to gather that money as part of the final collection.”
The Knights of Columbus also donated around $888 for the cause. The schools will be shipping more than 200 boxes, Strickland said.
“I am very pleasantly surprised and humbled by the fact that it has taken off and done very well,” he said. “It is something I didn’t expect. It has been a very worthwhile project.”