ONECO -- More than 100 military veterans will keep warm this winter with lap blankets created by students, staff and families at Oneco Elementary School.
It's the ninth year of the program sponsored by the Manasota Elks, and the third year students at Oneco have taken part in the project.
Representatives from Bay Pines Community Living Center in Tampa came Thursday to collect the blankets, then share a meal and memories with students.
Victor Murray, a U.S. Navy veteran who served in Vietnam from 1971-76, took his first trip to the school in a wheelchair. Murray said he enjoyed meeting the students.
"It's cool. They're very curious and eager and inquisitive," Murray said.
Nine-year-old Ben Tetrault, a third-grader, said it was cool to talk to the veterans on campus.
"They gave us freedom," he said.
He spoke to one veteran who served for 25 years.
"Twenty-five years is a long time," Tetrault said.
For Yvonne Tetrault, his mother and a first-grade teacher at the school, the event serves an important purpose. Yvonne's father, Ben's grandfather, was drafted into the Vietnam War and will enter hospice next week battling cancer. His illness, Yvonne Tetrault said, is a complication from being exposed to Agent Orange.
"I want him to know how important it is to be brave and to serve and to honor the people that are willing to do that," she said.
The project is funded by Elks Lodge 2754, said Patrick Gallagher, an Elks trustee and an energy and recycling specialist. In the last nine years, more than 1,000 lap blankets have been donated to veterans. The event is always held close to Pearl Harbor Day.
"It's a day that's not impressed upon them like it should be," he said.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter@MeghinDelaney.