EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - East Brunswick had plenty to be proud of this Monday when local trucking company JB Hunt of Edgeboro Road extended its reach and care to the Wreaths Across America Program. In a "Key Exchange" event between teams of truck drivers, almost 200 local residents, veterans, students, and families came together to provide a proper sendoff for a truckload of live wreaths headed for the Fayetteville National Cemetery in Arkansas as part of a ceremony to be held on December 14.

JB Hunt Transport Services once again honored the Gold Star family of Army Cpl. Steven R. Koch of East Brunswick who is interred at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington.  Nationally, 130,000 wreaths are delivered by 86 drivers in 13 ceremonies across the country.

"To be clear, " says the public information from WAA, "Wreaths Across America does not 'decorate headstones.'  We are honoring veterans and active military members by placing live wreaths on the headstones of veterans.  The fresh evergreens have been used fo centuries as a symbol of recognizing honor and as a living tribute renewed annually.  We want people to see the tradition as a living memorial to veterans and their families."  17% of employees of JB Hunt are veterans.

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Said JB Hunt Wreaths Across America Coordinator, Lisa Meza, "Thank you for you coming today to our Wreaths Across America Driver Key Exchange.  The drivers that picked up the wreaths in Maine were David Webb, Navy veteran, and Sean Dowd, Air Force veteran.  The departing drivers were Heidi Guevara, Army spouse, and Kenneth Rose, Air Force veteran.The drivers were all nominated by their peers and/or managers and then selected by a committee.  We are very proud to be involved with Wreaths Across America.  It is a lot of work to coordinate an event like today but it’s most definitely the nicest thing I get to do all year long.  It feels good to show our veterans that we appreciate them."

Speaking at the event, East Brunswick's Mayor Brad Cohen expressed gratitude to veterans "who protect the vision and possibility of a land of opportunity."  "If that idea isn't important to you, we've just lost a whole generation of Americans," he said. "God bless JB Hunt for doing this tremendous service."

The East Brunswick Public Schools have issued the following statement regarding the Wreaths Across America program and the participation of the Churchill Junior High School students, staff, and parents in this national effort: "Our Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Victor Valeski, as a veteran of the United States Air Force, is very proud of the CJHS students and staff for their commitment to the Wreaths Across America organization.Churchill Junior High School has been involved with the Wreaths Across America organization for 4 years."

Lisa Meza, who coordinates the East Brunswick Event at JB Hunt has a child at East Brunswick High School and was talking to one of the teachers there about her involvement in WAA at JB Hunt, and the teacher told her that Kathy Dragonetti, Assistant Principal at CJHS, is also involved with the program, and Meza contacted her. 

This year, the students in Ms. DeLuca, Ms. Cannillo and Ms. Campbell’s classes raised the most amount of money (over $1400 from those 3 classes alone). As a donor organization, CJHS  raised enough to contribute 408 wreaths this year.

The Positive Behavior Supports in Schools (PBSIS) committee is in charge of the WAA donation campaign at Churchill. (PBSIS is part of the  Social and Emotional Wellness Programming in place in the East Brunswick schools as a pro-active method of countering bullying, low self-esteem, and anxiety.)They have donated over 400 wreaths each of the last 4 years.  Dragonetti has gone to Arlington Cemetery three times to lay wreaths (including this year) and one time to BG William C. Doyle Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Wrightstown, NJ. Dragonetti said, "We are very proud of our students, staff and families for their generous donations and continued support for this worthwhile cause."

Jami DeSiena is the CJHS Choral Music Director who brought a select group of choral students to perform The Star Spangled Banner and the Armed Forces Salute at the Key Exchange.  DeSiena and the students began rehearsing the Armed Forces Salute Medley in September of this year to be ready for the Wreaths Across America event.

At the conclusion of the official part of the event, before the truck left East Brunswick on its route, Allen Pashley, JB Hunt Maintenance Supervisor reminded the group that "The freedoms that we have are not experienced anywhere else in the world.  It's important to remember."