CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Melinda Dart sees first-hand the impact that deployments have on entire families. She’s teaching second grade at Hopkins Elementary while her husband is stationed at Fort Lee.
When she heard about grant money to support military families in her community, she decided to apply. She ended up winning the $1500 grant through Youth Service America and knew she wanted to get her whole school involved.
“Every student and classroom teacher participated, we made 583 boxes with bracelets and cards,” said Dart.
That’s how “Operation Bobcats for Military Kids” came to life.
They decorated cardboard boxes, wrote cards, and made bracelets to give to military children at Fort Lee.
Kids like Stephanie Renteria’s were some of the recipients of the boxes.
“A lot of times as family members we kind’ve sit back and we let the soldier shine and our kids… they’re the quiet heroes at home,” said Renteria.
But the grant money did more than just fund the boxes.
It also helped buy Dr. Jill Biden’s book for each classroom at Hopkins Elementary.
It’s called, “Don’t Forget, God Bless our Troops.”
Dart says sharing the book with students brought the school’s efforts full-circle.
“It really brought to life the challenges of military families, military children,” said Dart. “We were able to make that connection so that they would know who these boxes were going to.”
Dart and the school’s principal, Lisa Hill, plan to continue outreach like this going forward.
“I hear the military families and I see the soldiers and how much they appreciate the boxes,” said Hill. “It means so much and I know that giving back to the community really does change the lives of students.”
As a military spouse and mother — Renteria sees this small gesture making a big difference for the military children.
“They really were just a friendship thing so [the kids] know somebody else is thinking about them and appreciates their small sacrifice,” said Renteria.