This Valentine's Day, Deb Harms wanted to make sure Marines on the other side of the world got a sign that they are loved.
Mobilizing more than a dozen volunteers Saturday morning, Harms helped organize Operation Military Stockings at Centennial Lanes.
Inside the bowling alley, which donated the space, tables were crowded with packages of Oreo cookies, chocolate candy, lollipops, beef jerky, packs of playing cards, fruit snacks, tooth brushes and Skittles. These were just a few of the items volunteers packed into plastic bags, which they then stuffed into hand-crocheted stockings in shades of pink, purple and red. Like Harms -- a Longmont resident -- those who volunteered said they wanted to send a message to U.S. troops.
Operation Military Stockings got its start in 2018. At that time, a friend of Harms asked if she could help her create stockings to send to her son-in-law's troop overseas. Harms helped her stuff 68 stockings that Christmas.
"I thought this is too great of a project to do just one time," Harms said.
The following year, Harms continued the project. This year, she hopes to send stockings to those overseas for not just Valentine's Day, but also for the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas. On Saturday, volunteers worked to stuff 55 stockings for Marines serving in Afghanistan and in the United Arab Emirates. The packages are sent to troop units at the suggestions of Boulder County residents, who have family serving.
Each stocking was complemented with a letter, a tiny, hand-crafted angel, created by Becky Fisher, of New Mexico, and a star re-purposed from retired American flags. Signing her name on a card Saturday, volunteer Brooke Miller , 17, of Loveland, said this was her first time participating in Operation Military Stockings.
"This is stuff we get to see every day that they don't see for a long time," Miller said, looking out over the table of goodies. "I just hope it makes them happy."
Valeri Vejrostek of Longmont volunteered with several members of her family. When her son, Jared Vejrostek , served in Iraq from 2002 to 2006, packages from home meant the world to him, Vejrostek said.
"We get names of units, where there are men and women, who don't get anything on the holidays," Vejrostek said.
Each stocking costs roughly $35 to $40 to create and stuff. Each box requires about $18.45 to ship. Harms raises money for Operation Military Stockings through her bowling league Tuesday Night Casino and accepts donations from those in the community. People across the country crocheted pieces for the stocking, which Harms assembled into late Friday night.
Chip Wheeler of Thornton was among those volunteering Saturday. Wheeler is Harms' former boss at Sherwin-Williams. He described Harms' work ethic as unmatched.
"She's just one of those people who is very tenacious," Wheeler said. "She accomplishes everything she puts her mind to."
As to what he wanted to accomplish Saturday, Wheeler said he "hopes this brings some joy to the Marines and shows we support them."
For Harms, the biggest reward is knowing the stockings make a difference. She said the best Christmas gift she ever received was a photo of U.S. troops smiling as they held up their presents.
"I just like to think that it helps them know they're loved and appreciated back here." Harms said. "I can't imagine being away from my family for more than a weekend, much less months."
Harms is in the process of turning Operation Military Stockings into a nonprofit. She is always seeking donations for the next batch of stockings. Those hoping to get involved can check out Operation Military Stockings on Facebook and message Harms if they're interested in volunteering.
This article is written by Kelsey Hammon from Daily Times-Call, Longmont, Colo. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.