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School Groups Spread Holiday Cheer

Students work to bring happiness to Iraq soldiers and the needy at Christmas.

Looking to lighten up spirits of those facing hard times during the holidays, Herndon High School students have spearheaded programs aimed at the needy at home and U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq.

Herndon High School students have spent the last several weeks preparing letters to send to soldiers serving in Iraq during the holidays and purchasing Christmas presents for the needy in programs hosted by the school's Student Government Association and the Naval Junior ROTC.

SIFTING THROUGH two boxes stuffed to the brim with the hand-addressed letters, Cmdr. Rick Cassara of the school's NJROTC program, grabbed a handful and started reading off whom they are addressed to.

"See this one here is for a fan of the USC Trojans," he said, holding up an envelope. "There's one here that is for a Hispanic soldier ... we get a whole lot of different topics that go out to the soldiers."

The letters, which contain references to things like movies, sports and video games, are a boost in morale for soldiers struggling with being away from their families at Christmas.

"In a place where the culture is so different, what you try and do is find something that a soldier will be able to hold on to," Cassara said, "something that reminds them of home."

Each year, the group receives approximately 1,200 letters.

"I remember getting these letters, and I remember how important it is to you," said Cassara, who served in the first Gulf War conflict in the early '90s. "You see it on the news, people saying that they support the troops, but there's nothing like getting a letter from a stranger telling you they appreciate what you're doing."

After Herndon's NJROTC collects the letters, they will be sent to the Army's 10th Mountain Division.

BUT THE EFFORTS to bring holiday cheer do not end with soldiers serving overseas.

With the aim of making sure that even the less fortunate have presents under the tree at Christmas, Herndon High School SGA classmates helped organize and manage a toy drive for needy children out of the school's cafeteria over the course of the last several weeks. The program was put on in coordination with local non-profit organization LINK.

"This time of year, especially in the second quarter, we try and focus on charity," said Becky Henry, the staff advisor of SGA. "We try and teach the kids that there are people out there who have needs that they sometimes can't necessarily fill."

The toy drive featured a small tree placed in the cafeteria and decorated with several paper angel and snowman ornaments, with the name of a child and a gift request written on the them. Students chose an ornament, purchased a gift matching the description and returned them to SGA students managing the project during lunch periods.

"We just wanted to make sure that everyone got what they wanted for Christmas," said Rachel McIntyre, a Herndon High School junior participating in SGA. "It's a good way of giving back to the community."