DuVall teacher, students honor veterans for 26th consecutive year

Children, school community collect, assemble more than 1,500 gift baskets to honor American heroes

DEARBORN — Second-graders from DuVall Elementary School will demonstrate the importance of veteran appreciation by passing out fruit baskets and comfort items to patients in John D. Dingell VA Medical Center in Detroit May 20.

Led by their teacher, Joanne Strez, the students, with help from parents and volunteers, hope to distribute more than 1,500 baskets with food and personal care items to the soldiers.

“Since I was young, my parents always spoke about how much people used to have to sacrifice when the country was at war,” Strez said. “Nowadays, it seems as if many people forget the men and women that are serving our country every day.

“I feel that it’s important to honor the sacrifices they have made and continue to make for our country’s safety. My father was a veteran as well, so they’ve always held a special place in my heart.”

Strez began the initiative in 1990 while teaching at Woodworth Middle School. Following a parent suggestion, the class visited patients with a limited supply of items.

Following the experience, Strez knew she wanted to make it an annual project for future students as well. Since then, community donations of fruit and comfort items for the soldiers, as well as volunteer participation have increased significantly, benefiting a much larger population of the hospital – more than 1,250 patients last year.  Now, the educator hopes to break last year’s record by delivering over 1,500 baskets.

In addition to the hospital, Purple Heart volunteers will take fruit trays to Piquette Square, an apartment project in Detroit for homeless veterans, and parents will also distribute items at Detroit Metropolitan Airport’s Freedom Center, a hospitality center in the airport for traveling Armed Forces.

The school community, and former students and parents also have helped decorating cards and trays for the fruit and toiletries.

Strez said it’s an exciting day every year for the hospital’s patients, as well as the students. Many of the recipients have written thank you cards over the years and volunteered time to speak with classes to show appreciation for the school’s efforts.

“It’s amazing to be able to teach these young children about our country’s heroes and how important they are to many of the nation’s historical celebrations,” Strez said. “I’ve had several students come back and say that this was the best field trip that they had ever experienced. It’s an incredibly moving and memorable event for everyone involved.”

For the past couple months, the class and community have been collecting donations of several items including produce, toiletries, combs and brushes, journals, craft supplies, playing cards, paperback books, DVDs, socks and board games.

Local businesses such as Harry Miller Florist, Dearborn Farm Market, Dearborn Fresh, Super Greenland and Papaya, along with Eastern Market proprietors La Piccolo Brothers, Del Bene, Ciaramitaro Produce, and Roscoe and Horkey Farms have been instrumental in pulling the effort together.

“The kindness Mrs. Strez, her students and the community have shown our patients is truly admirable and greatly appreciated,” said William R. Browning, chief of volunteer and community relations for John D. Dingell VA Medical Center. “It’s a heartwarming experience every time the children come to visit. The veterans light up as soon as they see the kids’ faces. You can genuinely see how much the interaction means to them.”

To get involved with Strez’s efforts, email strezj@dearbornschools.org.

To donate or volunteer with the medical center, go to www.detroit.va.gov/giving/index.asp or call 313-576-3332.