A cardboard moving box holding cans of shaving cream sat on the table in the garage, jammed next to hundreds of disposable razors and toothbrushes. Inside the house, other boxes held bags of trail mix, Xbox games, batteries and candy. Walking among the mass of supplies and volunteers could be difficult at times.
"My house has been overrun," said Susan Allen, the volunteer coordinator for Operation Homefront Washington. "The only place where there’s not Christmas stuff is our bedrooms and bathrooms on the second floor."
But 20 volunteers steadily sorted through the stacks of donated goods Saturday at Allen’s Yelm home and stuffed them into stockings destined for wounded soldiers at Fort Lewis. They wore Santa hats – trimmed with white stars against a blue background, like the American flag – as they filled the stockings with DVDs, disposable cameras, pudding cups and playing cards.
The 875 stockings will be delivered Friday to members of the Warrior Transition Battalion, a unit of soldiers with complex medical issues that helps them prepare for a return to their military careers or civilian life.
The donations came from both large corporations and individuals and in the form of supplies and money, Allen said. During a trip to the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Lacey last month, members of the nonprofit filled 10 shopping carts with stocking stuffers.
"The fingers of the woman working the register starting hurting because she was ringing up so much stuff," said Allen, who has been with the organization about four years and has hosted eight events at her home.
The volunteers were drawn to Allen’s home because they wanted to do something special for service members during the holidays, they said. Many have family members in the service.
One of the youngest volunteers, 11-year-old Jenna Brown of Yelm, said she was inspired to help because overseas deployments have become part of daily life among children at her school.
"We want the soldiers to know that they’re not forgotten," the sixth-grader at Prairie Elementary School said. "A lot of my friends’ moms and dads are in Iraq right now, so I feel for them sometimes."
One couple, Harold and Carol Watson of Marysville, drove almost two hours to help stuff stockings. Military tradition runs deep in their family; their grandson is a Navy reservist, and their son is a retired Marine who works as a contractor aboard aircraft carriers.
Saturday’s event was their first activity with Operation Homefront Washington.
"I saw something on a local news station about the chance to help the military," said Carol, a Spanish interpreter. "We always see a lot of bad news, and we decided that instead of complaining, we would do something that would help the soldiers locally."
Another volunteer, Monica Myers, also is no stranger to the military: Her parents both work at Fort Lewis, and her boyfriend is a soldier with the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment.
Myers, a 35-year-old Lakewood resident, said she knows the holidays can be tough on service members when their family is hundreds or thousands of miles away.
"The homemade stuff – the stuff you almost take for granted – means a lot," she said. "You don’t always remember that a lot of our soldiers are away from home. The peanut brittle, the popcorn balls – it’s stuff that’s tradition, but they go without because they don’t always have family in the area. We’re trying to make their holidays a little bit better."
Above right: Cheryl Edens of Bothell helps sort stocking stuffers destined for the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Lewis. Photo by Scott Fontaine, The News Tribune.