Fourth-grade faith formation students bless local firefighters at an event honoring police, firefighters, EMTs and military personnel Feb. 22, in Hammond. Operation Gratitude & Blessings was the name of the class’ service project. (Photo by Anita Draper)

Anita Draper
Catholic Herald staff

Nearly 40 fourth-grade religious education students thanked community members for their service Feb. 22, during an hourlong event at St. Mary’s Immaculate Conception, Hammond.

Police, firefighters, emergency medical service staff and members of the military were invited to take part in Operation Gratitude & Blessings. Twenty-five invitees attended, including personnel from Baldwin, Woodville, Hammond, Roberts and New Richmond.

Operation Gratitude and Blessings was the name coined by the parish’s fourth-grade faith formation students. As part of their religious education, students from each grade were asked to design service projects. The fourth-graders, who are learning about discipleship and theological virtues, chose to honor those who “have answered the call to be the best version of themselves,” Apryl Rivard explained.

Jackie Aune, coordinator of religious education for the parish, was slated to help out at the event, but an injury prevented her from attending. Rivard took the reins in her absence.

The event began with a prayer from Fr. Gerald Harris, pastor of St. Mary’s and St. Bridget, River Falls. Rivard then welcomed attendees and provided some background on the students’ goal, “to become the best version of ourselves,” and their admiration for others who embody the virtues of faith, hope and charity.

Personnel from each of four groups – police, firefighters, EMS staff and military – were invited to come to the front of the church. Following a blessing from Fr. Harris and the children, attendees were given “mug gifts” and invited to stay for cookies and refreshments.

The students also gave attendees “blessing bags,” canvas bags with flashlights, snacks, personal care items, coloring books and other donations, “for you to distribute in your service to those souls in need of blessing,” Rivard explained.

Fr. Harris closed the ceremony by thanking attendees for coming, and thanking fourth-graders for their efforts – designing banners, funding and stuffing the mug gifts, collecting donations and filling blessing bags, and presenting gifts.

“They did it out of gratitude for all of you,” he said.