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Troops receive stockings thanks to David-Donehower

David Karsnia, from left, Shawn Nygaard and Merle Sagen helped package and ship the stockings off to troops.

Christmas was a lot merrier than it would have otherwise been for dozens of U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq, thanks to 88 area residents who sent Christmas care packages and letters through David-Donehower Funeral Home.

The stockings were stuffed with a wide variety of goods, from small electronics to batteries to beef jerky and pumpkin seeds, said funeral director Shawn Nygaard, who helped spearhead the effort.

"The idea came up around Thanksgiving, and the entire staff wanted to send something over to the troops in Iraq," he said. "We were trying to find out how we could do it and still be a little cost-effective to the funeral home."

The solution? Purchase 100 standard-sized Christmas stockings, turn them over to the community to fill, and let the funeral home handle the shipping to Iraq.

Each stocking came with a list of suggested items that are popular with soldiers in Iraq.

"It was really neat to see the community response -- it almost gave you goosebumps when you saw it, because the response was so great," Nygaard said. In some cases there were too many goods to fit in the stocking, so the organizers put everything in a standard post office box, including the stocking. Many people also wrote notes of encouragement and support to the soldiers that were also included in the care packages.

The original idea was to ship the stockings to soldiers from the area, but the plan evolved into providing Christmas cheer to soldiers who otherwise would not be receiving anything.

"Some soldiers get a lot of stuff from their family and some don't get anything," he explained. "They were able to give soldiers who weren't receiving anything from their family something, to let them know they're appreciated, and to keep their head up."

The packages were sent on a rotating basis to 4-5 officers, who distributed them to their people as needed.

The logistics of the effort required some time and effort.

The funeral home put a notice in the newspaper right after Thanksgiving, and people had to pick up the stockings, fill them up and return them to the funeral home for shipping by Dec. 8 -- although a few came in a few days later and still made it to Iraq in time for Christmas, he said.

The packages cost $11 or $12 apiece to ship, but the fee was not based on weight, so the boxes could be stuffed full of items, Nygaard said.

"The paperwork was a little tedious," he added, since each item had to be listed to comply with post office regulations, but the time and expense was well worth it in the end.

"It was really neat to see the community response," he said.

He added that the plan was carried out through the joint efforts of funeral home employees David Karsnia, Eileen Lillis, Dee Wayman, Michelle Johnson and Merle Sagen.