AFJROTCbegins Teddy Bear drive here

Mauricio Julian Cuellar Jr., Alice Echo-News Journal

The holiday season is a time to celebrate with family, but not every child in South Texas has a family, or a place to call home.

Students with the Alice High School Air Force Junior ROTC are learning this lesson through their effort with the Operation Teddy Bear Program.

This Christmas, orphans will receive a Christmas to remember, thanks to the generosity and support of the Alice community.

Felisha Vera and Erika Smith, members of the AHS AFJROTC, know first hand about the situation facing these orphans.

"Seeing my cousins go through that, and Erika has seen others go through that as well, it touches you," Felisha said. "They don't really have much, that's why we're doing this."

There are more than 75 kids at the Beeville Orphanage, ranging in age from 3 to 18 years old. Erika said her dad first came up with the idea to provide bears for area police department, fire departments and EMS crews, who use the bears to comfort young victims of traumatic situations. Erika felt the same effort could be applied to those children who might otherwise go without gifts this year. The students found that Alice had no orphanages in the area, and that the closest facility is located in Beeville.

"Those kids are from all across South Texas. Teddy bears are something all kids can enjoy," Felisha said. "Something to hold on to while you're crying. Something to hold on to when you're sad, scared, or alone. It's there."

The AFJROTC collected several dozen teddy bears and will be collecting more, along with new and gently used toys at Alice High School through Dec. 13.

Felisha and Erika said that donations are welcomed from anyone, and that already, the community has shown their support for the endeavor.

"Wedding Lace donated large chairs for Mr. and Mrs. Claus to use at the orphanage," Erika said.

The students will dress as Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus, along with several elves, and the children will be able to sit on Santa's lap during the event as they pick out their Christmas toys.

The students are still searching for costumes for the event. They are also planning an Operation Teddy Bear drive for a location outside of AHS. The date and time of that event have yet to be announced. The AFJROTC will make a trip to Beeville on Dec 14 to deliver the toys.

AFJROTC instructor, MSgt. Mary Lane, said her students are getting behind the project, and that they feel good by giving to others. The group participates in other community projects, such as Busy Santa and Busy Bunny at local nursing homes, Lane said.

"These two girls do this constantly. Last year, Felisha was the head of our Busy Santa project, and the students really take these things to heart," Lane said. "It's great, I really like to see that from our students."

Donations of teddy bears, new or gently used toys for Operation Teddy Bear can be dropped off at AHS through Dec. 13.

"They can just bring them in, because we have boxes and boxes," Felisha said.