Students and teachers at Theodore Jones Elementary made it a priority this week to make sure local veterans feel honored right before the national holiday on Sunday.

Andrea Fournier, the physical education teacher at the school, said between the kids and the staff, Theodore Jones was able to raise $675 to provide coffee and donuts for free to veterans at Julie’s Sweet Shoppe in Conway.

Fournier said this initiative was something she started last year at the high school — the volleyball and basketball teams brought in $75 — after someone gave her the idea and when she moved to the elementary this year, asked Tammy Woosley, the principal, if she could continue the fundraiser.

“Our initial goal was to raise enough to buy coffee for one day,” she said. “However, we raised that amount on the first day of collecting coins. I am amazed at how many coins were brought in and could not be more proud of the students at TJES.”

Fournier said she was able to sit down and talk with students at the beginning of the project and when she asked her kids who was directly impacted by someone in the military, about half stood up and said they had someone close to them who had served or was currently serving in one of the armed branches.

She said the other half didn’t necessarily understand what a veteran was, which led to a lot of questions.

“That someone was fighting to keep them safe didn’t even cross their minds,” Fournier said.

She said because she had always worked with high school students who automatically knew what a veteran was, seeing these elementary students wonder opened her eyes.

Even more so, was the eagerness from the students to love on those veterans not only through the fundraiser but by also writing cards to send to ones they knew and others in the community. Fournier said she dropped several off at Julie’s on Wednesday.

“[The veterans] were so thankful,” she said.

Fournier said she ran into a couple who served in the Vietnam War, who mentioned the less-than-warm welcome they received when returning home.

Any day that honors veterans and those who serve, she said, is always appreciated and the group had so much fun reading the letters from the students too.

“One of the goals of the Conway School District is to create a culture of caring,” Fournier said. “I think the students and staff at TJES have reached and exceeded this goal.”

Principal Tammy Woosley said she was so proud of what the students have taken away from this lesson and classroom discussions.

“They know many veterans fought for our freedom, risking their lives and America,” she said. “I have already received an email from a gentleman that was at Julie’s [recently] and was very touched by what our students have done.”

Woosley said this experience has been emotional for even her to watch.

“Watching our kids and teachers talk about the sacrifices our veterans have made for our country and the connections they have made to their own learning is so uplifting,” she said. “Seeing them bring in coins from their own allowance or piggy banks [was] so gratifying.”

Woosley said one of the things they touched base on at the school was teaching the students that the community does a lot for them and the school and this was one way to give back.

“We have some of the most giving, kind-hearted kids I have ever had the pleasure to work with,” she said. “I find when we share with our kids there is a need or showing appreciation or gratitude, they come through and exceed our expectations. I am so proud to be part of a school with such a caring and giving culture.”