Every year for a decade hundreds of soldiers have opened packages filled with Christmas stockings most hand-sewn and filled by 4-H youth from Oregon State University Extension Service.
The 4-H Stockings for Soldiers service project started when the husband of a 4-H volunteer who was in the National Guard was deployed during Christmas.
“The kids in the club realized that the members of this unit would not be with their families during the holiday season and wanted to let them know that although they were far from home, they were still in everyone’s thoughts and prayers,” said Susan Hunt, 4-H program coordinator in Josephine County. “We came up with the idea of Stockings for Soldiers and it’s been going on all that time.”
The kids – who will stuff at least 750 stockings this year – use donated material and sew it together to make cheerful stockings and then fill them with donated items like personal health products, stationary, socks, snacks, coffee and hot chocolate and much more. They also tuck in a handwritten note. Some years the material runs out and the kids use already made stockings bought by a 4-H volunteer the year before during after-holiday sales. Usually, though, there’s enough material for the 4-H kids and volunteers to sew the majority of the stockings.
The community has stepped up, too, Hunt said. Every year the Grants Pass Chamber of Commerce advertises the effort and people donate items as well as money for additional goods to stuff in the stockings and for shipping costs. At $17 for four stockings, that adds up. Local businesses get in on the action by putting together baskets to raffle off, also for shipping costs.
The youth fit the sewing in when they can, completing a lot during spring and summer when school is out. They also take advantage of down time at the county fair and sew between events and barn duty, Hunt said. Counting this year, the Josephine County 4-H program can boast of sending approximately 5,000-filled stockings most of which they have sewn.
“This year we are again shipping to our very own Oregon National Guard as they are deploying over the holidays,” Hunt said. “They love getting them. It’s a piece of home.”
Thank you notes come from some of the soldiers each year and this year a special note came from the Commander and Senior Enlisted Leader of the unit. Over the years, as a thank you, they have also received two treasured American flags with certificates saying that the flags had been flown at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.
One soldier wrote, “My name is Jared and I am a Senior Airmen currently deployed to Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. I received your gift late at night after working long hours on one of the roughest days of my deployment. I wanted to personally thank you for your support and keeping service members in your mind during this important holiday. You truly turned one of my darkest days in to one of the brightest I have had in months.”