A member of the Honor Guard teaches a student how to fold a flag Thursday at Sierra Middle School. Rey Berrones Photo
The American Legion teamed up with Johnny Gonzales on Thursday at Sierra Middle School to encourage students to embrace the spirit of giving. Children from Sierra and Del Norte Elementary schools authored personal messages of support to troops overseas and folded these notes into small American flags that soldiers can carry in their pockets.
The students also brought new and used toys to the school to help Gonzales with his annual Christmas Toy Giveaway, which takes place on Christmas Eve at 7 p.m. in the Yucca Recreation Center.
“The theme today is to give instead of receive for the holidays,” American Legion member Orlando Padilla said. “We’re recognizing the troops, just telling them we care and that we remember them during the holidays. We know they’re not here with us but, hopefully, they come back to us safely.”
Ralph Matta, science chairman at Sierra, said the Pocket Flag Project teaches children about the sacrifices men and women who serve make each day. “What I hope it does is raise awareness of our troops overseas. Because it is a big sacrifice — being away from family and home.
“And it’s important that our troops get a little bit of home that they can carry with them.”
After the ceremony, the flags were given to the Adopt-A-Soldier program, which will ship the flags to troops overseas.
“We have a couple of kids who have family members who are currently overseas,” said Sierra principal Rhonda Martinez. “And this is a great opportunity for our kids to realize how close to home this is, since we have students here whose parents are deployed.
“It’s a good thing; it kind of opens their eyes, and it gives them an opportunity to give back.”
Gonzales said his Christmas Toy Giveaway reaches 800 to 1,000 children each year. He said he was extremely grateful for the help the Community Volunteer Program received Thursday from both the veterans and students.
“We only have about a week left, and the veterans decided to help us out so we can collect more toys,” Gonzales said. “We really need toys.
“It’s very important. This is an open event, there’s no registration. Every year, we have so many (toys) that we give, but we’re low this year.”
Gonzales said the annual Christmas Toy Giveaway is critical for children who have no one this holiday season. “I’m just hoping to see that joy they’re going to have when they walk in. The more fortunate kids already have the big toys. But the ones who are really needy, who don’t have a father or mother, well, I try to be that person who meets them at the door.”
“I want to touch their hearts,” he said. “They’ll see that it’s not organized, that we don’t just set a toy on the porch and walk away. And it could be any kind of gadget, but with the love behind it. That’s what Christmas is about. It’s not about the $500 iPad or getting five toys.
Those who wish to donate a toy before Christmas Eve can contact the Community Volunteer Program at 317-1769.