Child brightens soldiers' holidays

When little Celestina Vela decided to spread some Christmas cheer, she didn't mess around.Celestina, a 6-year-old first-grader at Bauer Elementary, was so moved by the plight of soldiers who will have to spend Christmas away from home that she decided to do something to cheer them up.So she sent them Christmas cards — lots and lots of Christmas cards.Over the course of a few weeks, Celestina and her family collected more than 1,000 holiday greeting cards to send to U.S. military personnel serving overseas.“I did it because they won't be able to come home for Christmas,” Celestina said.Celestina's mother, Dondee Vela, said her daughter said she wanted to send cards to those serving overseas. When asked how many she wanted to send, Celestina simply said, “a thousand.”“She came up with the idea all by herself,” Dondee said.Celestina started her project Nov. 27. The clock was figuratively ticking, because the U.S. Postal Service told the family they had to have the cards by Dec. 9 in order to ensure delivery to service personnel by Christmas.Undaunted, Celestina and her family plunged into the project with a will, collecting cards and donations from family, friends and other people who simply wished to help out. She also received help from Kwikies Convenience Store, which donated 200 stamps.By the time the deadline arrived Friday, Celestina had collected her thousand cards — with 17 to spare.“Daddy (Eugene Vela) paid the postage,” she said, “and I signed all of them myself … and my brother (Zachary) signed some, too.”“It just cost us $18 out of pocket in expenses,” Dondee said. “The rest came from peoples' donations.”The cards will be distributed in various ways — 176 have been sent to U.S. Army Spec. Mark Sanchez, who is married to a Big Spring native, to be handed out to members of his unit; 236 were mailed to soldiers whose addresses were provided to the Velas; and the remainder went to Holiday Mail For Heroes, an organization that sends greeting cards and other items to overseas personnel during the Christmas season.Dondee said her daughter has shrugged off praise for what she's done, and already has an eye on a future project.“She said she's going to do this again next year,” Dondee said.