Minnix estimated there were more than 150 letters from students in the box that also contained beef jerky, sunflower seeds and two varieties of cookies from Quijada's favorite Chinese restaurant in El Centro.
Smiling, Minnix said he'd slipped two AutoTrader magazines into the box as another happy reminder of home because "he got his first truck by looking through that magazine," Minnix said.
These days one of the first things visitors to Lincoln elementary see is an 8-by-5 foot banner in patriotic colors that proclaims "Our Hero, Jose Quijada — School Volunteer Supporting Our Country Overseas."
Quijada's family relocated to Arizona in August and in a telephone interview from Phoenix on Tuesday evening, his mother, Virginia Quijada, spoke of feeling "happy and thankful" for the way Lincoln students and staff were showing their appreciation of her son and the work he did at their school as a volunteer.
Virginia Quijada said she had spoken to her son by telephone a number of times since his ship left San Diego but there were periods when he was unable to contact his family. Close to tears, she related how there was a period of seven weeks in which she did not hear from Jose.
"It was very difficult for the whole family and we would watch the TV news every night and read the papers hoping to understand what was going on over there," she said.
Minnix spoke of the value for his students to be involved in sending the care package to Quijada.
"… that our students could do something by recognizing and honoring Jose by mailing him letters. That they are thinking of him and all the other people fighting for our country is a valuable lesson."
Quijada is expected home in late February and his younger brother, Eric, will be flying to Honolulu to meet the USS Peleliu when it docks there briefly before returning to its San Diego home port.
Eric will join his brother on the ship under the Operation Tiger Cruise program, which allows a family member to accompany an active duty relative on the last leg into the ship's home port.
The program is designed as a morale booster for sailors and as a way of helping family members understand military life.
You can follow Quijada's journey home by logging onto his ship's Web site at www.peleliu.navy.mil
>> Staff Writer Jennifer Ralton-Smith can be reached at 337-3442 or firstname.lastname@example.org