Youths and mentors help brighten soldiers’ holidays

November 8, 2018

American military members deployed across the world may feel a little closer to home this Christmas.

Community Connections’ mentors and mentees, along with the sixth-grade Impact and Assets teams from Madison Middle School, hosted an event Wednesday in partnership with the North Platte Senior Center and RSVP.

Participants were involved in a project that came alongside Operation Christmas Card to fill care packages and send Christmas cards to American soldiers.

“What Community Connections Mentoring does is we work with youth in the community to help build their self-esteem and help get them involved and build relationships outside of their family,” said Angela Hipp, mentor coordinator. “This is their service project.”

Char Swalberg started the Operation Christmas Card project, Hipp said.

“We thought it was a great idea, something to give back at Christmastime,” Hipp said.

Madison sixth-grader Cage Kackmeister said he wanted to help.

“We’re doing it for people who are in the military overseas that can’t come home to be with their families for Christmas,” Cage said. “To me, it’s pretty important because, like, the (box) I’m making is for somebody in Europe, and in Europe they don’t have macaroni and cheese.”

He said the soldiers don’t have a lot of the stuff they have when they are home, something echoed by a classmate.

“We can send food and stuff to soldiers for when they miss being home,” said Dakota Horton. “My box is going to (a soldier) in Italy.”

Dakota said he knows Italy is a really nice place and it has “the Leaning Tower of Pisa.”

“I enjoy doing this very much,” Dakota said. “It makes me feel happy and also excited.”

Swalberg started Operation Christmas Card three years ago when her son was deployed.

“My son was in South Korea in 2015 for Christmas, his first time away from home,” Swalberg said. “I had sent him several care packages.”

She said around Thanksgiving, “he called me and said, ‘Mom, whatever you’re sending, send extra, there’s a lot of guys here who aren’t getting mail or anything.’ I reached out to the community on Facebook for jerky and Christmas cards.”

Swalberg said she ended up sending 16 care packages and 5,000 Christmas cards. From there the operation grew, and this year Swalberg has about 235 names of soldiers on her list for care packages.

“I am literally getting 10 requests a day for care packages,” Swalberg said. “This is amazing to have the community and the kids help out with this.”

With great emotion, Swalberg said it “really is overwhelming sometimes.”

For those who would like to donate funds to ship the packages that cost $17.40 each, there is an Operation Christmas Card fund account at NebraskaLand National Bank.

The group also has a Facebook page at facebook.com/groups/operationchristmascard.

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