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Program to bring cheer to veterans

Hundreds of veterans — both locally and around the globe — soon will be receiving some personalized holiday cheer.

Through the Holiday Mail for Heroes program, local school districts, senior activity centers and other organizations created hand-written cards that are distributed to veterans during the holiday season.

“This is a great way to say thank you to all the men and women that serve or did serve in our military,” said Cambria County President Commissioner Tom Chernisky, who has helped oversee the Cambria County portion of the project along with the American Red Cross.

Ken Geary, executive director of the Red Cross’ Pennsylvania Mountain Chapter, said the program has been in operation for the past decade to “put a smile” on veterans’ faces and give them a proper salute for their service.

While active service members will also receive cards, Geary said the more than 400 cards recently collected will mostly be distributed to the Hollidaysburg Veterans Home and the Van Zandt VA Medical Center.

“Many of our veterans aren’t able to see their families for the holidays, whether they are staying in a health facility or are currently serving,” Geary said. “This is a really heart-warming and rewarding program that we are really proud to be a part of.”

Geary said residents at the Ebensburg Senior Center participated by making hand-written cards, and the Red Cross also received a healthy boost of cards from the Central Cambria and Richland school districts.

The Central Cambria Middle School crafted about 200 cards for veterans, and for sixth-grade math teacher Melissa Stevens, she felt it was a perfect opportunity to teach her students the value of giving back.

“It’s important for the students to participate in the program to show their support and honor veterans during the holiday season,” said Stevens, who is also a student council co-adviser. “It’s also important for the students to learn to give back to their community. Hopefully this small gesture will empower and encourage them to contribute in other ways throughout the rest of their lives.”

At the VA Medical Center, Veteran Support Supervisor John Clay said patients have been very receptive of the many “thank yous” they receive from the community.

Although the cards are just a small gesture, “anything that we can do to put a smile on their face and give them a little bit of comfort is always worth it,” Clay said.

Homemade thank you cards are just one of many ways that people can support veterans.

Through the Veterans Support Fund, Clay said donations go directly toward personal care and comfort items for veterans, such as blankets, slippers and other goodies.

For those who can’t support veterans financially, Clay said there are numerous volunteer opportunities, with willing helpers needed both in and out of the hospital.

“There are many different opportunities available,” Clay said.

Geary said that no gesture is too small and encouraged everyone to lend a helping hand this holiday season.

“We need to do whatever we can to give back to those that served,” Geary said. “They sacrificed so much for us, and the least we can do is reach out and let them know that we appreciate them.”

Anyone interested in donating, sending a card or volunteering at the VA Medical Center can contact Clay at 814-943-8164 ext. 7046.

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