Rodney Manhardt pepped up fourth-graders in Mary Lasch’s class at St. Lawrence School in Greece by remembering Christmases when he was in the U.S. Army from 1983 to 1987.
One year, when he served in South Korea, there was no yuletide celebration. Another year, in Arizona, he and other soldiers painted a tumbleweed green to try to fake a Christmas tree.
That’s why Manhardt encouraged the students to help make the holiday cheery for local soldiers serving overseas.
“What you are doing for these guys and girls is so important,” Manhardt told them.
With that, the students filed around desks and placed in more than 90 stockings such items as razors, soap, peanuts, candy, granola bars, drink mixes and gum. The stockings and other larger presents were then shipped overseas to Lance Cpl. Jeremy Judkins, 20, a St. Lawrence School graduate who is serving as a weapons specialist in the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine K Company in an Iraqi town east of Baghdad.
The students have been sending Judkins letters while he serves his first tour in Iraq, said his mother, Susan Judkins, the school’s music teacher. She said the packages will mean a great deal to him, especially when, caught up in the war, he didn’t even know Thanksgiving had passed. St. Lawrence School is still very precious to him, she said.
“This is a special place to him, so having something come from here is like a little bit of home,” Judkins said.
Many people helped to make the project possible, Lasch said, including the Hamlin Veterans of Foreign Wars post, which donated $200 to buy the stockings and fund an upcoming Valentine’s Day project. Parents also donated small items to put in the stockings.
“The families in this class were very generous,” said Katy Martin of Hamlin, whose daughter Molly is one of the members of the class.
A few weeks prior to the stocking stuffing, the students began making greeting cards to place in them, said Connor Litzenberger, 9, of Greece.
“We made 20, and we were all desperate to finish, and we worked twice as fast, so everyone could have a great Christmas,” Connor said.
When asked what she would say to Jeremy Judkins and her cousin, who is in training with the military, if she had the opportunity to speak with them, 9-year-old Meaghan Flaherty of Greece said she would express her gratitude.
“I’d say, ‘I miss you all, and I’m so grateful for you for fighting for our country, and I wish you could stop doing what you are doing, but you have a duty,'” she said.