Special delivery from Manchester to soldiers

Of all the homemade greeting cards in her decorated box at Manchester Elementary School, Madison Gleespen held up a pack with American flags in the top corner.

A closer look reveals that the flags are really handprints of the kindergartner students at the school.

"These are my favorite ones," said Madison, 8, smiling. "I really like how they did that. It's a creative way to say 'thanks.' "

Since the beginning of November, Madison has been collecting for Operation Christmas Cards, an organization that sends cards to soldiers overseas during the holidays.

Madison, the daughter of John and Jill Gleespen, is a student of karate at the Global Martial Arts Academy, in Hampstead. Jill Gleespen said her daughter's instructors, Josh Massey, Ryan Hurwitz, routinely give the students tasks to accomplish outside their classes, and last month challenged the students to "do something for someone else."

Madison and her mother found Operation Christmas Cards while doing research on the Internet, and decided it would be a perfect fit.

"She really wanted to …help more people than just one," Jill Gleespen said of her daughter. "Our goal is to send as many cards to troops as possible."

Madison also chose Operations Christmas Cards for another reason.

"I love mail so much," Madison admitted. "I couldn't live without mail. I get holiday cards, birthday cards. Sometimes my friend and I just write each other for fun."

Madison started her collection at Manchester Elementary School, where she is a third-grader. She read an announcement about the collection to the school during morning announcements, and placed a box in her classroom. Her parents also put a box in their pharmacy, Manchester Pharmacy.

"It's a lot of work," Madison admitted of the card project. But she's been pleased with the response. After making her speech, then a "reminder" speech, "I started getting a whole bunch of them."

"I think all the grades participated," said Terri Pittinger, Madison's teacher. "Some of the art teachers also are using it as an art project.

"The whole school is involved," she said.

The cards was still coming in toward the middle of this week, and Jill's mother expected the final tally would be well over 200. Customers at the pharmacy had turned in 50 to 75, she said.

"Her goal had been 100, but then when she saw how many were coming in, she said, 'Maybe I can get 200,' " her mom said.

Students had until Nov. 17 to turn in their own creations, and Madison and her mom were scheduled to mail the cards to Massachusetts, where Operation Christmas Cards collects them to mail overseas.

Founded in 2009, the organization last year sent some 140,000 cards to service men and women. For details on the organization — or to sign up to request a card for a loved one overseas — go to the website, http://www.operationchristmascard.org.

"I'm happy she picked this out," said Gleespen of her daughter's choice to help Operation Christmas Cards. "It helps those who are helping us. Those who give up being with their families so we can be here safe with ours."

For Madison, the project is a win for herself, and for those service their country.

"Give a card," she said, "and see what we can do to cheer (soldiers) up."

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