With the holiday season fast approaching, many are reminded that not everyone will make it home to celebrate.
As such, families packed The Oaks Recreation & Fitness Center the morning of Saturday, Nov. 11, to take part in the Mokena Community Park District’s annual Stockings for Our Troops.
The event aims to support the Manhattan, Illinois-based non-profit organization, Operation Care Package, and its effort to provide the troops stationed stateside and abroad with supplies and letters, giving them a taste of home during the holiday season.
“It’s always very well attended,” said Mary Beth Windberg, superintendent of recreation for Mokena Community Park District. “We have regulars that come every year, and there’s one family that always brings their grandpa’s picture with them. He’s in uniform, and they put it on the table, and they’re working on their stockings.”
All the materials used to make the stockings were donated, and the Mokena Community Park District accepted many donations leading up to the event. Supplies collected from the community included Halloween candy, toiletries, playing cards, drink mixes, snacks and various items the troops might not be able to acquire if they are overseas.
“Everybody has been dropping off donations, monetary donations, and that’s used to pay the shipping cost to get the stuff overseas,” Windberg said.
People who attend the event typically decorate 400-500 stockings, and volunteers complete another 300-400.
“Our art teacher and some of the seniors that come to our senior citizen programs come in every week, so [it’s an] all-year [effort,]” Windberg said. “They do a great job. [The stockings,] they sew them all. They put little loops on them.”
A station was set up with cards and stationery to encourage families and children to write letters or draw pictures for the troops.
Andrew Donahue, of Mokena, said stuffing stockings for the troops on Veterans Day has special meaning for him.
“I did [service, and] my brother’s still on active duty in the Air Force, and I was in the Marine Corp,” he said.
Andrew was discharged in 2012 after having served since 2001. He watched on as his children, Elly and Adam, decorated their stockings.
“They wanted to come,” he said. “It was their idea. They’re excited. They were talking it about all last night.”
Andrew said holding the event on Veterans Day serves as a positive reminder.
“I think it’s important to remember our veterans, what they’ve sacrificed, what they’ve done,” he said. “It’s cool. Pass it onto [the kids,] so they can always remember them.”
Amy Farrell, of Mokena, said it is tradition for she and her 12-year-old daughter, Katie, to come out for Stockings for Our Troops.
“We’ve always come,” she said. “Many years in a row we’ve done it.”
Amy said Katie is involved in the National Junior Honors Society at Mokena Junior High School, and teachers were encouraging students to take part in Stockings for Our Troops as a way to giveback to the community.
The event has added meaning for Amy. She has a brother-in-law who has served in the military in the past and is currently retired.
“For the people that served our country, it’s the thing to do,” Amy said. “We look to support them.”
Amy said a lot of people participated this time around, and it seems like more than in years past.
“Mokena seems like a patriotic town,” she said. “Fourth of July, everybody’s involved and doing stuff. I think this is a wonderful thing that [people] are doing.”