Desert View students send holiday greetings to soldiers in Afghanistan

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Aspiring Santa elves at Desert View Elementary School are hard at work preparing Christmas cards and care packages for U.S. military soldiers serving in Afghanistan.

Deborah Fox-News-Bulletin photo: Desert View Elementary music teacher Michelle Artiaga organized “Operation Christmas Basket,” to send care packages to soldiers in Afghanistan. Student Alexis Marquez expressed her gratitude in her letter that will accompany a gift. “I hope you have a great holiday, and I also hope you see your family soon,” she wrote.

The students are also practicing Christmas carols for a public performance at 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 11, in the school’s gym.

Desert View Elementary music teacher Michelle L. Artiaga organized the special project, “Operation Christmas Basket,” to send soldiers handmade Christmas cards, letters, hard candy, toiletry items and DVDs of Christmas carols performed by her students.

“So many of the students want to be a soldier,” Artiaga said. “They’re just so proud of them for being so brave, and many of the children look to the soldiers as heroes for inspiration in their lives.”

The letters the students wrote express gratitude and pride.

Kianna Burns signed her card, “Your thankful America.”

“I appreciate all that you do,” wrote 10-year-old Christopher Benavidez. “You do a lot for our country and I know you get severe injuries, and sometimes your friends die, but you are helping me and my family. I am sad you are gone at this time of year.”

Another student wrote that she was sorry the soldiers couldn’t see their families for the holidays.

“Your service helps our families to be safe and free,” wrote Chloe Cruz, 10.

The idea was inspired by Artiaga’s cousin, Angel Cavanaugh-Faulkner, who serves in the military and recently married a soldier, Mark Faulkner, who has been shipped out to Afghanistan.

“They just got married and it touched my heart,” Artiaga said. “I started thinking about the soldiers.”

She thought it would be nice to send holiday comfort and cheer from the school to the men and women serving the country far away from home.

With the go-ahead to do the project from the school’s principal, Deidra Martinez, Artiaga put out notices to all the teachers, parents and Parent Teacher Committee members, as well as her church, New Life Fellowship in Belen, led by Pastor John Kennedy, who asked for donations from those who wanted to participate in the project.

Her cousin provided a list of all the units on her military base that are serving in Afghanistan this holiday — about 500 soldiers.

They also gathered a list of commonly needed supplies, such as dental hygiene products, deodorant, after-shave lotion, hard candy and other goods, Artiaga said.

“Our principal is very supportive of our troops and doing this project,” Artiaga said. “She’s been very supportive of this whole thing.”

Being a music teacher, it wasn’t long before it occurred to her that a recording of Christmas carols sung by her young students would be a great addition to the packages.

“Children singing is probably one of the best sounds on Earth, as far as I’m concerned,” she said. “I can’t imagine giving them a better present than children singing.

“They’re serving far away from home and hearing and seeing children singing would be a wonderful gift.”

The Operation Christmas Basket choir will perform for the public at 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 11, at the Desert View Elementary gymnasium. The PTC will be selling hot cocoa and cookies.

Videographers, William and Lou Bledsoe from Sweet William Photography in Albuquerque, www.sweetwilliamphoto.com, offered to film the choir performance at no charge because it is such a good cause, she said.

The PTC has also collected money so Artiaga can get copies made of the DVD, and pay the postal fees to ship the packages to Afghanistan.

The music teacher has already sent 20 boxes of Christmas packages, and plans to keep sending shipments through New Year’s Eve.

“I’m really thankful to the soldiers for risking their lives for America,” said Aracely Ramirez, 9.

If anyone would like to help the Operation Christmas Basket project, they can contact Michelle Artiaga at Desert View Elementary School at 866-2488.