Scouts answer wish lists for homeless vets
Wearing vests and badges, they snapped to attention during a presentation of the flag before pursuing their task at hand: spreading some Christmas cheer for those who served in another kind of uniform.
Cub Scout Pack 61, a group of 55 boys in first- through fifth-grade at Whittier Elementary School in Wheaton, decided not to depend on Santa this year and instead took it upon themselves to answer the holiday wish lists of five veterans living at the Midwest Shelter for Homeless Veterans in Wheaton.
The nonprofit shelter provides transitional housing for veterans from any era through two facilities near downtown. Opened in 2007, it also offers job training and other resources to help veterans live independently.
The Scouts recently packed a gym at Whittier to write Christmas letters to accompany gifts that several of them would later hand-deliver to the veterans. The pack asked veterans what they wanted this year and then den leaders shopped for personal presents ranging from clothing to a guitar song book, organizers said.
Jill St. Clair-McCann, den mother of the first-grade Tiger Cubs, pushed the annual effort by encouraging the Scouts to raise money for the gifts. Many of the youngsters received donations by tackling household chores for the past several weeks.
"What's neat is to have them see the direct relationship between trying to earn money and getting a gift that's not for themselves and giving it to someone who has needs so much greater than they do," the Wheaton woman said.
The project allows kids to salute local veterans and reinforces a sense of work ethic, said Ken Gazarek, the pack's committee chairman.
"It's not asking mommy and daddy for money, and then giving it to someone," Gazarek said. "It's working and getting something for what you worked for."
Belinda Hernandez looked over the shoulder of her son, Esteban, who drew dozens of patriotic stars and planned to write "peace, hope and love" on his Christmas card for one veteran.
"He's always been very helpful, and this time there's even more purpose behind it," his mom said. "He understands the money he earned from chores was to donate for the soldiers. He does a lot of climbing the stairs and putting boxes away and picking things up. He's very willing and very happy to do it and very motivated to just get in there and do his part."
The first-grade student described the chores he pitched in with around their Wheaton home.
"I cleaned my room, swept the floor, cleaned up the basement," Esteban said.
Smiling, the 7-year-old proudly announced he shares a birthday with his godfather, an Army sergeant from Bolingbrook serving in Afghanistan.
"He's in the war," Esteban said.
While he may not yet know all the details of his godfather's second deployment, the 7-year-old is eager to show area veterans they "will not be forgotten," Hernandez said.
"They will always be our vets," she said.
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