Dec. 25 is still six weeks away, but last weekend I witnessed an unforgettable Christmas scene courtesy of an all-volunteer group called Operation Support Our Troops.
Operation Support our Troops – www.OSOT.org – was launched by two eastside women, Sheryl Sheaffer and Nadine Gulit, who have sons and grandsons in the military.
Their purpose was to avoid the politics of the war and focus on the people sent to fight it. Early projects included “Thank you” rallies for departing (or returning) troops at Camp Murray or the freeway overpass near Fort Lewis.Eventually they launched “Holidays from Home” to “adopt” thousands of troops by sending them Christmas gifts.
This year, OSOT wanted to send Christmas stockings to 8,000 troops. Hundreds of people and some local businesses such as Safeway, Starbucks, Wal-Mart and Oberto, donated snacks like beef jerky, candy canes, chewing gum, peanuts and Lifesavers, along with sundries like Hoo-ahhs field towels, thousands of Polar Fleece caps and fun, but modest, gifts like Nerf balls, playing cards, books, chess and checkers sets, cribbage boards, handheld games and DVDs. Dozens of seamstresses sewed 8,000 Christmas stockings.
Next step was postage.OSOT got KVI radio to donate a day-long radiothon to raise the postage. Listeners came through with $75,000.
Last Saturday, OSOT asked people to please show up at a large drafty barn in southeast Renton to help assemble, pack, box and deliver all the Christmas stockings. This is what I saw when I drove over to see the “packing party.”
Nearly 400 people – senior citizens, students, vets, military wives, Cub Scouts, youth groups and friends of soldiers – showed up. So many cars drove down the flag-festooned driveway that a volunteer was dispatched to direct traffic. People lined up at one end of the barn, and walked down one of six assembly lines packing handmade stockings with snacks and sundries. At the end of each line, another volunteer would take the stocking, staple it shut and toss it in a huge cardboard box which, when filled, would be taken to a table where it would be taped shut and carried to a container truck parked four feet from the barn.
At the east end of the barn, several women wrapped the larger gifts, which were also boxed, taped and carried to the truck. When each volunteer was finished walking through the line, they exited the barn, walked back around and started over. The line went out the door. Volunteers had cookies and snacks for people waiting to go back through the line.
In each stocking and package was a card that says this: “May you know that you are in our prayers at Christmas and always. God bless you and keep you safe. May you return home to us soon. Remember that you are loved and not alone … Merry Christmas from proud Americans in the state of Washington.”
It was like the final scene from the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life” where all the townsfolk show up to make sure the Bailey family had a merry Christmas. Except these folks were helping thousands of soldiers they don’t even know. And unlike Mr. Bailey, the troops aren’t risking bankruptcy. They’re risking their lives.
If you want to see the true spirit of Christmas in action, there’s another “packing party” next Saturday between 10 and 3 p.m. in Renton at The Anderson Barn on S.E. 192nd. For more details, log on to www.OSOT.org. And yes, bring your kids.
John Carlson hosts a daily radio program with Komo 4’s Ken Schram each weekday at 9 a.m. on AM 570 KVI. He also broadcasts daily radio commentary on KOMO 1000 news. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.