Gervais Elementary School principal Dr. Creighton Helms had a simple message to the student body last week as they were gathered to celebrate the end of their Operation Gratitude campaign — be kind to each other.
It's a message that is not just a mantra for the students to carry with them throughout their educational careers into adulthood, but a core tenet in Operation Gratitude, a nonprofit organization that provides care packages to U.S. military and first responders.
"One of the most important things you can do is to be nice to each other," Helms said, addressing an assembly of students who gathered Feb. 21 to hear the final total the school had raised in donations to the organization over the past several weeks.
Between both Gervais Elementary and Gervais Middle schools, the students were able to raise $700 to go toward individually-addressed care packages, which get sent to a variety of recipients, including servicemen and women deployed overseas, their children left behind, first responders, veterans and more.
Each package contains snacks, hygiene products, entertainment and handmade items valued between $45 and $100. Some Gervais students were able to donate whatever spare change they could scrounge up. Some donated more, others less, but every student wrote an individual thank you letter to be included in a package waiting to be sent out.
"Things like this make us feel appreciated," said Sgt. Mohamad Hussein, a member of the U.S. Army from the Salem Recruiting Office.
Operation Gratitude was founded in 2003 by Carolyn Blashek as a grassroots movement meant to give soldiers fighting overseas the knowledge that people back home across the country care about them and the sacrifices they make. Since then, the organization has grown to include first responders, and has delivered more than 2 million packages, including 250,000 sent out annually.
"Operation Gratitude is really important, not just for us, but for all the first responders around the world," said Lt. Robb Gramzow, a Woodburn firefighter who addressed the students during the assembly. "It's really important to them, because it brings home back to them. It's really cherished by those who get them."
Helms was floored by the generosity of the Gervais students over the course of the fundraiser, including the final day in which more than $250 was raised.
While kindness for the sake of kindness was the ultimate message of the fundraiser, many students were motivated by a special movie and pizza party with Helms that went to the classroom that donated the most money.
As fortune would have it, that honor went to two classrooms — those of fourth-grade teacher Tiffany Fast and fifth-grade teacher Kerry Broadhurst — who nearly tied each other for the school-wide lead. But Broadhurst's classroom narrowly edged out Fast's classroom for the lead, so as a bonus prize, Helms allowed two students from Broadhurst's class to shave the sides of his head into a mohawk of sorts.
And while the misshapen haircut will eventually fade, Helms hopes the actions and generosity for complete strangers is what the students from the Gervais School District ultimately take away — that the effort they put into helping others is a reward unto itself that pays itself forward.
"This is overwhelming to me," he said. "I will never ask you to be perfect. All I ask is that you try your best and be kind to each other."
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