St. Mary Students Brighten Soldier’s Christmas
By Zenaida Kotala // December 16, 2012
EDUCATION & HOLIDAY GIVING
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – St. Mary’s Catholic School students and faculty are hoping to make Christmas special for a U.S. serviceman who is one of their own.
Private First Class Christopher Oldac, who attended the Rockledge school from 1996-2005, is a U.S. Army combat engineer currently serving with the 573rd Clearance Company in Afghanistan.
Oldac and his company will be receiving care packages put together by members of the school’s sixth, seventh and eighth grade religion classes, as well as cards written for the troops by every child in grades preK-8.
Seventh-grade teacher Kim Walsh has tried to do something to honor the troops at Christmas for the past five years.
“We’ve always tried to find some kind of personal connection,” she said.
This year, it’s Oldac, who began a scheduled nine-month deployment in July. Though Walsh did not teach Oldac, she taught his younger brother, Alexander, who is now a junior at Rockledge High School, and has kept in touch with the boys’ mother, Sheena Heitzman.
“We just kind of started talking a little bit more and decided that was the best way to go,” Walsh said. “He’s a former student. Some of the teachers bought him his favorite candies and (wrote) special cards, so we have two special stockings just for him.”
Heitzman, who recently visited the class, said her son and the rest of the troops will be touched just to know there are people out there thinking of them and willing to do something nice for them while they’re spending the holidays so far away from their families.
“Those kids cry,” Heitzman said. “They miss home. (But) that’s not something a guy is going to tell you when they’re carrying a machine gun. They appreciate it more than words can say.”
As a combat engineer, Oldac and his fellow engineers look for improvised explosive devices (IEDs). It’s dangerous work, obviously, but necessary to help ensure the safety of America’s troops in Afghanistan.
To know that Oldac once roamed the same corridors they do now has made putting together the care packages and writing the cards a special experience for St. Mary’s students.
Things like small bottles of mouthwash and other basic essentials were stuffed into stockings along with candy and candy canes.
“I think it’s really good to do, because the soldiers are giving their time and especially not being here for Christmas, it’s a lot of … wow,” said St. Mary’s seventh-grader Hannah Schaeffer. “St. Mary’s always looks out for people, even when they leave.”
One year, Walsh’s students wrote letters to the fiancee of a former student. Last year, the children wrote cards for soldiers at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington D.C.
Gifts To Share
This year Oldac will receive three stockings from St. Mary’s. His company will get 50 small stockings and three boxes of gifts to share as well. Another St. Mary’s parent collected the items and shipped them this week.
That parent paid for all the shipping after hearing about the school’s project. Other students at the school worked with the school’s National Honor Society club to prepare 181 stockings for families with children who will visit St. Mary’s Catholic Church’s Helping Hands food bank.
When Heitzman told her son what St. Mary’s was planning, the 21-year-old was grateful.
“Tell them thank you, mom,” he told her. “Thank you. Thank you.”
Because there is no PX on the base, soldier’s families are encouraged to send the basics, such as toothpaste, shampoo, soap, deodorant, etc.
The troops often share those packages amongst themselves, though those extra touches from home – a baseball cap for their favorite team, for example – are treasured. The care packages and cards St. Mary’s students will be sending the troops will offer them another little taste of home.
“One of the things he commented last time was, ‘it makes us feel human again, not just soldiers — killing machines. It makes us feel human that someone cares, somebody remembers,’” Heitzman said.
ABOUT ST. MARY’S
St. Mary’s Catholic School opened its doors in 1958 in the heart of Rockledge, Fl. Since then, the faculty and staff have been providing a Christ-centered environment where children learn to be responsible, independent and enthusiastic life-long learners. The fully accredited school serves children in prek-3 through eighth grade. It delivers the Orlando Dioceses curriculum to its students, which is rich in academics, the arts, music, athletics and provides an emphasis on the sciences as well as foreign languages starting in kindergarten. The small size of the school provides a nurturing family environment that is steeped in the spirit of Mercy taught by the Catholic Church. St. Mary’s graduates not only enter the best high schools in the county, they become astute critical thinkers who will succeed in the 21st Century and beyond. For more information visit Marys-School.org