Ellis students step up to show soldiers they care

Published 7:50 am Friday, December 3, 2010

It’s hard for Ellis Middle School teacher Lise Mittag to speak about how proud of her son, Spec. Brandon Hall, she is.

Hall, who is serving in Afghanistan on his second overall tour of duty, has been overseas since June. While Mittag keeps in contact with Hall via e-mail, it’s not the same as having him at home. Mittag gets overwhelmed, tearing up when she thinks of the service Hall gives.

“It’s your kid,” Mittag said. “It’s personal.”

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Amber Scherrard, another Ellis Middle School teacher, knows the feeling. As she’s told her kids, while her family gets to spend Christmas with each other, her father, CMSgt. Glenn Cimmiyotti, will spend the holidays alone in Afghanistan as well. In order to make sure soldiers with Ellis connections get extra support while they’re serving, students and staff have been busy organizing holiday care packages.

Ellis will wrap up Operation Cards and Care Packages today, a school-wide drive to gather holiday cards and gifts to send to Hall and Cimmiyotti’s respective units. The drive is spearheaded by Ellis’s social studies department.

“The idea for students is to remember, to be aware, of what soldiers are going through,” said Cheryl Dunlap, a sixth grade social studies teacher.

Students gathered holiday cards and items like beef jerky, instant flavored tea mixes, computer games and Xbox 360 games to send over. All of these items were specifically suggested by soldiers who’ve come back from serving overseas, according to Michael Veldman, an Ellis social studies teacher.

“It is truly from the hearts of many staff members and students that have done this,” Veldman said.

About 30 Xbox 360 games will be shipped out today, which will reach soldiers by Christmas. Last year’s care package drive, Operation Cards and Candy, resulted in about 70 pounds of items sent overseas. In addition, students will soon have the opportunity to join the Writers’ Corps, a revitalized pen pal program where students will write one letter a month to soldiers in Hall’s and Cimmiyotti’s units, along with the unit of Johan Kalmes, a son of an Ellis teacher, letting them know what’s going on in the community and at Ellis.

Writers’ Corps was a student group formed in 2005, when Ellis staff members previously had relatives serving in the military, which culminated in a 2007 visit by the soldiers to the school when they returned from their tours of duty. Since then, it had gone on hiatus until earlier this year.

While Mittag and Scherrard hope their loved ones will come back safe from their service, they’re touched by all of the support Ellis has shown.

“I’m just so grateful and so proud and so thankful for the kindness and the generosity and the empathy of students and staff here at Ellis,” Mittag said.