By Dan McDonald
For Hometown News
BREVARD -- Somewhere in the dusty hills of Afghanistan, American soldiers recently received Christmas greetings in the form of care packages, sent by middle school students at St. Mary's Catholic School in Rockledge.
And in true holiday spirit, all of their efforts were done in name of one of their school's former students.
"I can't tell you how proud and touched I am that these children made the effort to remember my son and the other soldiers," said Sheena Heitzman, whose 21-year-old son Christopher Oldac once roamed the halls of the Christian school from prekindergarten through eighth grade, before graduating from Rockledge High in 2009.
"When I saw the work and effort these kids put into these care packages, my heart nearly burst with pride and love," Ms. Heitzman said. "I get emotional when I think of what they did to honor Chris and the other soldiers, who are in a foreign country, working to keep us all safe."
The packages, which were sent in the form of Christmas stockings, stuffed with items that are routinely taken for granted in many cultures, were gathered and packed by students of St. Mary's religion teacher Kim Walsh, who said it was a perfect lesson for her sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students.
"I try to do something every year at Christmas, so the students get a practical lesson," said Ms. Walsh, who has taught at the school for eight years. "This is a lesson about doing something for others and doing unto others as you would have them do to you."
"I'm very proud of the students and, of course, proud of Christopher and the other soldiers," she added. "It was amazing how everything just came together perfectly to make this effort a success. It really is a great lesson for everyone."
Ms. Walsh said the effort began when she was talking to Ms. Heitzman about Christopher several months ago. While she never taught Christopher, she did teach his brother, Alexander, currently a junior at Rockledge High, and has remained friends with his mother through the years.
It was during that recent conversation that Ms. Walsh became aware that Christopher, who specializes in locating and disarming roadside bombs as a PFC serving with the 573rd Clearance Company of the 2nd Engineer Battalion in Afghanistan's Arian Provence, was having difficulty finding simple items such as lip balm, sunscreen, hand sanitizer, soap, hard candies and chewing gum for he and his crew. That was the genesis of the care packages.
"I sent home a letter to my three classes and explained what we were doing and asked for donations," Ms. Walsh said. "The kids really got excited about helping one of their own fellow students. My students are too young to know Chris, but many of my students did know his brother, and we have a picture of Chris hanging up in our room, so the kids did feel like he was one of them."
It didn't take long for the classes to fill and ship 55 packages, each placed in a homemade stocking.
Ms. Heitzman, who stays in touch with her son through emails and occasional telephone calls, said her son is excited about receiving the packages.
"As a parent, I'm deeply touched by the actions of these young students," she said. "It shows that people do care for others. It wasn't too long ago that Chris was running down those same hallways, and going to classes in the same rooms and occasionally getting into trouble, just like these kids."
These gift packages may seem like a small gesture, Ms. Heitzman added, but they show the effort these students made to help heal some of the sadness in this world.
"I know how much Chris and the other soldiers will appreciate the thought that others are thinking of them, while they're serving their country so far away," she said.