NORTH ROYALTON – Love is definitely in the air … airmail that is.

Inspired by Valentine’s Day and the book A Paper Hug, Valley Vista Elementary students and PTA members made sure a group of soldiers across the globe felt the love by sending them not only a half ton of snacks, toiletries and goodies with guidance from Veterans Liaison Wally Ohler, but also paper hugs and letters of appreciation kids crafted with tender, loving care.

A Paper Hug is the story of a boy whose father is being deployed overseas. He helps create a care package for his dad, finally settling on the best gift he can send from the heart: a paper hug made from cutouts of his hand prints strung together.

And that’s just what Valley Vista students did Feb. 17.

Each class signed A Paper Hug book, a total of 17, to include with the packages and each student made a paper hug and penned letters for the soldier to enjoy.

The letters and cards were sweet. In that unmistakable youngster handwriting, one card read, “There’s snow much love;” another was decorated in patriotic hearts with drawings of soldiers.

“We wanted to help out with the troop so that they have food and feel good and want to keep fighting,” said third-grader Abbie Black, 9.

She donated toothpaste and soap.

“It made me feel good,” she said of her donation.

Helena Johnson, a PTA member, said the school has sent cards and even Skyped with a former student who’s now a Marine in the past, but they wanted to do more this time.

She said this is a way to honor the soldiers and also instill a valuable lesson.

“It’s teaching our kids that there is more than little North Royalton. It’s teaching them about the other side of the world that to them is just a place on a map. They don’t realize these are sons and daughters, mothers and fathers over there making a difference for them,” Johnson said.

Leslie Stetler, PTA president, couldn’t agree more.

“It’s so important to show our kids how to give back to the rest of the world outside this bubble, that they do things to impact others’ lives,” Stetler said.

Principal Jeff Hill said the armed forces have always been near and dear to the school. He said he wanted this food drive to be more than just simply putting a box in a hallway to collect food and handing over the items.

“We wanted to educate the kids, so they have a better understanding. We do this with Veteran’s Day. And, we do this with the Pledge of Allegiance, so they know what it means, that it’s more than just words,” Hill said. “We wanted this to be meaningful to the kids and give well-deserved attention to our vets.”

Ward 3 Councilman Dan Langshaw, a PTA member, helped assemble the care packages.

“As a PTA dad and Army veteran, it was so moving to see the over 1,000 items that students collected to send some love and hugs to our troops serving overseas,” he said.

Ohler, a Vietnam vet himself, knows the soldiers will be beyond grateful for this.

“This will touch the hearts of these soldiers,” he said. “It lets them know that home is never far away, that we send our love and prayers wherever they are deployed.”

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