Perhaps you celebrate the birth of our country, or support those who are serving it or honor and remember those who have lost their lives in service. But do your children?
Children who enjoy the rights and privileges within our nation seldom understand what it takes for a country to become and remain independent. One way to help them in their understanding is to teach them to thank the men and women in uniform for their sacrifice and actively support those in service. Here are some ideas that other parents have done successfully:
Helping Our Heroes
"Mom, I'm in the hospital, but it's OK."
When our family got the call from our son, who is in the military, it was alarming. We felt helpless because we couldn't see him. Yet, he was not alone. The Lord brought compassionate people to be with him and encourage him.
My family was so grateful for the kindness of these strangers. They inspired us to find our own ways to honor and encourage our country's heroes. Here are some ideas we discovered to help our kids get more involved:
- Partner with a group like Operation Gratitude that sends care packages to service members. Our family began by making cards and writing encouraging letters to soldiers. Now we also make paracord bracelets for Operation Gratitude's care packages.
- Reach out to military kids. Our daughter befriended someone at school who shared about her difficulty making friends because her family often moved. If your kids don't know a child from a military family at school or church, check out the community relations office at your local base or Blue Star Families.
- Raise money. Families can set up a lemonade stand or have a garage sale, and then donate the money to organizations that serve the military, such as Wounded Warrior Project.
My son was so grateful for the support of others during the time of his recovery. He summed up his feelings by saying, "Good people helped during a bad time."
Sending a Care Package
First, contact a volunteer coordinator, either at a local base or through an organization, to learn about geographical or other restrictions. Then pack items that are small, sturdy and practical (no glitter). Here are a few ideas to start with:
Snacks: Foods that don't melt and offer some nourishment, such as beef jerky, protein bars and instant oatmeal
Everyday essentials: Razors, soap, toothpaste, lip balm, sunscreen, hand sanitizer, etc.
Drinks: Individually packaged items, such as Kool-Aid, Emergen-C or powdered energy drinks
Activities: Playing cards, magazines, app store gift cards, stationery with envelopes and stamps
Training Kids to Show Respect
Once our children could identify military clothing, my husband and I taught them to thank the soldiers we saw (police and firemen, too). Those in uniform seem to appreciate it and often salute in return. Our kids learned that a small gesture goes a long way toward showing respect for those who sacrifice for the rest of us.
A friend's older brother, Caleb, was in the military and stationed overseas. This provided a perfect opportunity to teach my 7-year-old twins to show appreciation and offer encouragement to our country's soldiers.
I encouraged my kids to draw pictures for and write letters to Caleb. Their letters covered everything from prayers for safety to mundane details about what happened in school that day. At night they prayed for him, asking God to protect him and his men and to keep him from worrying.
In anticipation of Caleb's return home, my kids recorded a welcome-home video for him. They also constructed posters on which they drew pictures and wrote celebratory phrases so that Caleb's wife could decorate the walls when he returned home.
Though Caleb lived approximately five hours away, we stopped by to visit him while on a road trip. The kids were shy around him, but meeting Caleb helped personalize their prayers for those who serve our country.
Stockings for Soldiers
James pointed to a disposable camera in the display. “Do you think a soldier would like one?” he asked.
I glanced at my list. “Sure.”
I shared with my two children, James and Amanda, and my 3-year-old nephew, Sammy, how our troops had to spend Christmas away from home. Some wouldn’t receive gifts. They decided to stuff stockings for the troops, since they loved opening Christmas morning stockings themselves.
We bought inexpensive Christmas stockings along with lip balm, hand sanitizer, travel-size baby wipes, adhesive bandages, hand and body lotion, disposable cameras, mini board games, crossword puzzles, foam footballs, prepaid phone cards and small Bibles. We included packaged, nonperishable food such as beef jerky, sunflower seeds, granola bars, coffee and instant drink mix.
Then the children arranged the stockings across the kitchen floor assembly-line style and wrapped many of the items individually. Sammy enjoyed placing the gifts into the stockings. He then drew a picture for each soldier.
We packed the stockings into boxes and sent them to a friend in Wisconsin whose son was serving in Iraq. The soldier wanted to make sure his friends had a good Christmas. Before dinner, the children prayed for the soldiers who would receive their packages, each prayer personal and heartfelt.
—Julie Scudder Dearyan
Holiday Cheer to Soldiers
A candy bar may be a child’s reward for cleaning his room, but to Spc. Tony Dang it was a crucial reminder that others still cared. While serving a yearlong tour of duty in Iraq, Tony received packages from family, friends and churchgoing strangers.
“The boxes from church groups made a difference and boosted my morale,” Tony said. “They usually came at a time when my family was busy and couldn’t write.”
Christina Femia, the wife of an Army engineer stationed in Iraq, stressed over not having enough time or resources to send her husband everything she wanted him to have. To her, it was comforting to know that he’d get packages from strangers.
”If he wanted something, let’s say socks,” Christina said, “someone else would send them, and I wouldn’t have to worry.”
For every soldier who leaves mail call with an armful of cardboard containers, there are others who leave empty-handed. You can spread Christ’s love to service members stationed overseas.
Adopt a soldier. Call a local military installment’s information line to ask about adopting a deployed service member. SoldiersAngels.org, AdoptAPlatoon.org and AdoptAUSSoldier.org also provide opportunities to pray, send goods or donate money.
Cooperate. Check with local churches and schools to see if they are sponsoring deployed soldiers.
What to SendGeneral
- Lip balm
- Toothbrushes and toothpaste
- Facial astringent and cotton balls
- Candy (that won’t melt) to share with local children
- Baked goods and nonperishable snacks
- Letter of encouragement
- Thank-you note for serving our country
- Photograph and small patriotic craft
- Thanksgiving card
- Tacks or tape
- Cookies to be shared
- Advent calendar or small artificial tree
- Miniature Christmas stocking
- Garland and unbreakable ornaments
- Christmas decorations made by your child
- Christmas story written by your child
How to Send a Box
SHIP goods, regardless of weight, in Priority Mail flat rate boxes from the post office. Paying international postage is unnecessary. Packages sent to service members stationed overseas are sent to an American Post Office (APO) address.
PLAN to send holiday packages at least one month in advance.
KEEP letters upbeat and steer children away from questions like, “Have you killed someone?” or “What kind of violence do you see?”
PACK baked goods in plastic bags and surround with popcorn or bread to retain the moisture.
WRITE brief descriptions of items as you fill out customs paperwork ahead of time to avoid processing delays.
SEND baked goods or inexpensive items so packages won’t be a target for thieves.
PRAY as a family for your soldier.
Show Love to Service Members
For every soldier who leaves mail call with cardboard boxes, there is another who leaves empty-handed. This Christmas season, your teen can spread Christ’s love to service members stationed overseas.
Pack. If your teen had to spend a year far away from home, what comforts would he miss? What hygiene supplies might he find useful? What magazine, book or CD would he enjoy, and how could he positively affect those around him? Let your teen answer these questions to pack the best items for deployed soldiers.
Decorate. Allow teens to personalize the box with decorations, being mindful of postl shipping requirements. You want your package to be fun to receive but don’t want it delayed in processing.
Pray. Remind your teen that just as God can use five small loaves and two fish to feed 5,000 mouths, He can use even the simplest gesture of kindness to change lives. Encourage teens to regularly pray for their soldier.
Write. Encourage your teen to write a genuine letter and pose questions like the following:
- What is your favorite Bible verse and why?
- What are you most looking forward to when you come home?
- Has being stationed in the Middle East positively affected you in any way?
- If you were a board game, which one would you be and why?
- If you could have eliminated one trend from pop culture during your childhood, which one would you cut and why?
International Postage Reminder
Paying international postage is unnecessary. Packages sent to service members stationed overseas are sent to an American Post Office (APO) address. The military delivers the boxes to foreign countries.
- Call a local military installment, and ask about adopting a deployed service member.
- Visit Soldiers Angels.org, AdoptAPlatoon.org and AdoptAUSSoldier.org to connect with service people.
- Partner with a church that adopted a service member.