By Emily Williams
Sisters Carla Dudley and Charmel Taylor Pines don’t often cross paths during their workday.
Dudley teaches fifth grade social studies at Brookwood Forest Elementary School. Pines spends her days serving the Birmingham VA Medical Center as chief of voluntary services.
This year marked the second annual Wrap for Warriors, which brings the sisters together as Dudley’s students wrap presents for patients who are staying at the VA on Christmas Day.
“It’s called Wrap for Warriors, because we wrap for the ones who have already given to us,” Pines said.
Groups of students came to the hospital over the course of two afternoons, Dec. 16 and Dec. 17, to wrap holiday gifts in the lobby of the clinic.
The idea for the event came naturally, as both sisters were looking for ways to honor veterans.
“We wanted to do something special,” Pines said. “If we say veterans really matter, then we need to show them that they matter. So, that’s how we collaborated and got this started last year.”
Dudley spends a week in October teaching her kids about veterans in preparation for Veteran’s Day.
“We talk about what we learn on Veteran’s Day, and then it just disappears until the next Veteran’s Day,” Dudley said.
She was looking for a way to keep the importance of veterans on the minds of her students beyond fall.
“My sister and I were sitting around during the holidays, and I was telling her that we get all of these gifts that come in,” Pines said. “It’s just a random assortment, and I didn’t just want to hand things to the patients.”
The gifts are sent by community partners, veterans service organizations, local churches and the like. There might be a pair of socks donated by Vestavia Hills United Methodist Church, she noted, with a book from the Veterans of Foreign Wars organization and something donated by a local restaurant.
“My sister said, ‘How about my students come wrap these gifts, and then you send them all of these individual gifts in one box,’” Pines said. “And let everyone know that these boxes were built with love.”
Last year, the sisters hosted the first wrapping event, and it was such a success that this year’s group of fifth graders wanted to continue the new tradition.
According to Pines, she is always ready to build on a theme. There were cookies and Coke served at last year’s event, so this year the theme became “Poppin’ the Trunk and Twistin’ the Tops.”
The assortment of gifts were loaded into the trunk of a car, where students could pick out which gifts they wanted to place in the boxes they would wrap. Each class chose their own theme – whether it be snow, animals or such – and bought rolls of paper that followed that theme.
After the presents were wrapped, the students observed a moment of silence and twisted the tops of their Cokes before celebrating a job well done over refreshments.
On Christmas Day, Pines passed out the gifts to hospital patients with help from co-workers and volunteers.
“Most of these young children don’t know much about veterans unless their parents have served or their grandfathers served,” Pines said. “They don’t understand the significance of it or the importance of how much it means for them to always have a relationship with veterans.”