Livingston students deliver holiday cheer to Turlock native serving in Afghanistan

dyawger@mercedsunstar.comDecember 24, 2013 

— Cesar Flores has friends clear around the world who have reached out to him over the holidays with Christmas cards and gift packages.

Flores, 22, is an Army private stationed in Afghanistan, and he has at least 28 friends at Yamato Colony Elementary School in Livingston, along with their teacher, Alicia Villa.

Villa’s fourth-graders in her Dual Language Academy English-Spanish class sent Flores a care package including cookies, soup, tuna, gum, packs of sunflower seeds, nuts, toothpaste and toothbrushes, cheese puffs, Mexican pastry, cereal bars, granola bars and a variety of flavored mixes to add to his water bottles.

Along with these luxuries for someone in the rugged Afghan terrain, the children sent letters and a handmade Christmas card. Villa said Flores reported to his aunt, a school secretary, that he had received the goodies and shared them with his buddies. Flores said it was a big morale booster. He was leaving for a mission and said would write back when time allowed.

“I thought it would be such a great experience if my students wrote a letter to Mr. Flores, and we put a care package together for him,” Villa said. “This was just a great way to reinforce our school motto, ‘Making a Difference.’

“This is the first time I have had one of my classes write to a soldier and prepare a care package as well. This is something that I will continue to do because it is just so powerful, and knowing we are reaching out to others is such a marvelous feeling,” Villa said.

Villa’s students agree.

“It is such a great deed to be able to reach out and bring joy to a soldier who is fighting for our country,” Karina Duran said.

Neveya Villa was inspired by the project: “I felt this was such a great project because I am lending a helping hand to a soldier who is protecting our country and reaching out to him to thank him for all he is doing.”

And the same goes for classmate Christ Cervantes. “I feel that I am doing something wonderful by writing to a soldier,” Cervantes said. “This is going to make him feel delighted because he may be feeling lonely.”

Fellow fourth-grader Harvin Johal said he was “thrilled” to write a kind message to a soldier that he considers a hero. “I hope that my letter will bring him joy.”

Flores, the son of Dora Flores Jau and Jose Luis Flores of Turlock, was born and raised in that city. He is the oldest of eight children and a Turlock High School graduate. His unit is based out of Fort Polk, La., and has been serving in Afghanistan since last July.

Villa said her students will be sending one more care package to Flores and will write to him again next year. She said it took him three weeks to receive their mail.

“It’s been exciting,” Villa said, “and a learning experience, not just for myself but my kids as well. It’s nice knowing we are helping others.”

Villa said a fellow teacher also had her students send a package to another soldier. The project began at the end of October, when students started talking about heroes. Since Veterans Day was coming up, students started singing patriotic songs, Villa said, and Flores ultimately was the beneficiary of their largesse and patriotic spirit.

Sun-Star staff writer Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dyawger@mercedsunstar.com.

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