More than 1,000 veterans got a Merrier Christmas when an effort led by Fresno Pacific University staff succeeded beyond the dreams of its organizers. “I get choked up just thinking about it,” Denise Baronian, executive director of regional enrollment at FPU, told KFSN ABC 30.
In the first “Operation Dear Veteran…,” Baronian asked Valley residents to write Christmas cards for veterans in the Fresno Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the Veterans Home of California—Fresno. Staff members hoped to gather 500 cards—instead, the festive holiday hatboxes they delivered December 21 contained 1,600 Merry Christmas messages.
“Once the word got out and people caught the vision, we were overwhelmed with cards,” Baronian told the station. Cards were brought to her home over three weeks by churches, elementary school students and families.
FPU has about 100 students who are veterans of the U.S. military. “We are also regularly connecting with veteran resource centers at area community colleges to let them know we care about our veteran students and work closely with them to make sure they succeed,” Baronian says.
David Black, FPU veteran outreach and student service coordinator, and others work to make sure they are served and feel included by the university. Black, the State Commander for AMVETS Department of California, knows how many local hospitalized veterans are alone at this time of year.
“Christmas and the holiday season can be a lonely time for many, especially for veterans. Usually this time of year brings the community out to be with our veterans that are hospitalized, but with the challenges of COVID we are all navigating now, this simple, amazing gesture will be meaningful to our veterans. I am honored to be a part this,” he says.
Faculty and staff at each of FPU’s five campuses—Merced, North Fresno, the main campus in Southeast Fresno (including Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary), Visalia and Bakersfield—were asked to help. Volunteers were encouraged to include neighbors, family, children and grandchildren. Baronian’s first two cards were made by her two- and four-year-old grandchildren.
In addition to KFSN, other local media publicizing the project included KMJ Radio, KSEE (NBC 24)/KGPE (CBS 47) and GV Wire.com. See a full report from KFSN at abc30.com/christmas-card-veterans-vets-veteran-affairs/8961492/, KMJ at kmjnow.com/2020/12/21/kmj-listeners-help-sends-hundreds-of-christmas-cards-to-valley-vets/ and KSEE/KGPE (CBS 47) at yourcentralvalley.com/news/fresno-pacific-university-hoping-to-spread-holiday-cheer-to-local-veterans/ and GVwire.com at gvwire.com/2020/12/10/christmas-cards-aim-to-bring-cheer-to-veterans-in-fresno-va-hospital-veterans-home/
PHOTO: Left to right—David Black, Jenniffer Jeannette and Vivianne Xiong (both employees of VA Central California Healthcare System Voluntary Service) and Denise Baronian.