With the help of local community members and Walla Walla Dental Care, Dayton's Aileen Warren is supporting soldiers overseas and spreading holiday cheer by sending holiday stockings to service men and women.
Warren volunteers with community members to create and send handmade stockings to soldiers overseas. These stockings are filled with candy, dental supplies, and cards and art made by local youths. Volunteers have sent more than 1,500 stockings overseas in the last seven years.
Warren started sending stockings to the troops in 2003 when a Dayton community member went to Iraq at the beginning of the war. After she sent items to that soldier, other community members got involved and the project grew. Yet as the community members wanted to send more stockings, the costs increased.
"The only problem is that it takes a lot of money to put them together and to send them across seas," Warren said.
Warren found a creative solution for raising funds that helped cover costs, and also raised awareness. She sold yellow car-magnets with a message indicating support for the troops' efforts overseas. Warren sold over 5,000 of these magnets to community members for $5 each, raising over $25,000 to fund the stockings.
Young people from Dayton, Walla Walla and Waitsburg have supported the troops by helping Warren and her cause. Waitsburg sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders made cards for the troops, and Waitsburg third-graders made art for the stockings.
Special education students from Pioneer Middle School made snowman art for the stockings as well.
Columbia County 4-H members stitched the stockings. Local youths bake cookies and fudge to include in the stockings. Girl Scouts helped assemble and fill them.
"It has been a combined effort between Dayton, Walla Walla and Waitsburg," said Warren.
Walla Walla Dental Care, has been particularly helpful with filling the stockings.
The business gave all the candy from its second annual candy buy-back to Warren for the stockings. The dental office offered a $5 Hasting's gift card in exchange for local kids' Halloween candy. This year the dental office gave out 65 $5 gift cards collected more than 100 pounds of candy, all of which was donated to Warren to send to troops in the Middle East.
"It helps the parents limit the amount of candy their kids will be eating and thus helps reduce their chances of getting sick and dental cavities. The kids like to be part of helping the soldiers and they get a small gift in return - the Hastings gift card to get themselves something a little more healthy and long lasting. We are just happy to help the community and the soldiers. The soldiers get something special for the holidays and possibly extra candy to share with the children they come into contact with," said Amy Woiler, the dental assistant in charge of organizing the program this year.
While Warren and the community volunteers enjoy preparing the stockings, it is clear the soldiers enjoy receiving them as well. Warren tells the story of a Dayton resident who was in an airport in Kuwait and overheard soldiers talking about how special it was to receive handmade Christmas stockings from a small town in Washington.
Warren's favorite part of the process is seeing the stockings actually go to the soldiers, along with knowing the project is the combined effort of many people who want to send their thanks to the soldiers for their service.
"My favorite part of the whole process is watching the boxes go out the door," Warren said. "It is the honor of a lifetime to be involved in this process."
Joe Volpert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.