Catholic Sentinel photos by Ed Langlois
Kindergartners at St. Francis School slide box of toys to present to soldiers.
Catholic Sentinel photos by Ed Langlois
Kindergartners at St. Francis School slide box of toys to present to soldiers.

SHERWOOD — Somewhere this Christmas, the child of a citizen soldier will feel joy over the good deed a pack of kindergartners has done. The young students from St. Francis School here led a toy drive among peers, parents and parishioners, collecting hundreds of playthings for families in the Oregon National Guard's Clackamas-based 41st Infantry Brigade.

The young students from St. Francis School here led a toy drive among peers, parents and parishioners, collecting hundreds of playthings for families in the Oregon National Guard's Clackamas-based 41st Infantry Brigade. When military parents are deployed overseas, or when they are home andhaving trouble finding a job, gifts can be a financial stretch.

"It makes a brighter Christmas," says Staff Sgt. Jeremy Box, who has been a liaison between the brigade and St. Francis, which has 190 students.

The collection kicked off on Veteran's Day when a group of soldiers from the 41st arrived at St. Francis and sat down with kindergartners over juice and crackers to plan the details. With the help of the St. Francis student council, the youngsters collected toys for about a month; then the soldiers picked up the donations to deliver them to households in time for Christmas. One parishioner donated a box full of wooden trains, cars and planes he made with his own hands.

"Thanks for doing this for us," Sgt. Box told the entire school, which was gathered in the gym for a ceremony to turn over the gifts.

The delegation of soldiers recited the Pledge of Allegiance with the student body and bowed heads during prayer over the Advent wreath. They also answered questions, showed students their armored vehicle and let youngsters try on bullet-proof vests and combat helmets.  

The Guard members are a big draw. Kindergartners tend to run up and hang off the camouflaged legs.

The 41st now has about 200 soldiers, most of whom have deployed in the past decade. Students asked the visiting soldiers where they had served.

Staff Sgt. Ray Strike was posted in Baghdad, right across from Sadam's palace. Staff Sgt. Box was on assignment in Balad, Iraq and Staff Sgt. Brittney Zavala in Kuwait. Sgt. Jason Hamilton was deployed to Iraq in the war's hot early years. Major Vince Habeck was posted in Afghanistan and reminded the students that the National Guard also helps domestically; he worked in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

How did a school in Sherwood get linked to a Guard unit in Clackamas? Judy Leach,  volunteer coordinator at St. Francis, is the granddaughter of a World War II veteran who served with the brigade in the South Pacific. The St. Francis project is in its seventh year.