Pat Becker was in the middle of stamping 128 Christmas cards when our interview began. Despite the tediousness of it all, she sounded happy, even honored, to be stamping each individually crafted note. There was a certain vibe that indicated she wished there were more cards to mail. Becker explained, with a warm smile, how each one was handmade by Girl Scout Troop 220 from Burgaw. They were made with the same care and thoughtfulness as they were last year … and the year before that … and the year before that … dating back all the way to 2007. That’s the year Becker first began Operation Santa Bag, a selfless care-package crusade to ensure troops serving our country overseas have a very merry Christmas.
“Our goal from the beginning was to create awareness,” Becker says. “We want folks to understand that we continue to have troops so far away from home over the holidays, and we need to show them and to let them know that they are not forgotten. Even those not in a war zone deserve our attention and our appreciation. We can never repay our troops for what they give us: our freedom.”
This is a truth Becker cements to her core. Military is a strong connection to her family, as her son, Sgt. Walter Isengard, served for 13 years active duty. His dedication to serve—a dream that can be traced back to his childhood when he proudly dressed up as G.I. Joe—is the reason why Becker began Operation Santa Bag. Today, he proudly works for the Harnet County Sheriff’s Department, is enrolled in the police academy and continues as a US Army Reservist. But Becker’s ties with the military don’t stop there. She was also a member of the silent ranks—a military wife.
“My wonderful husband of 25 years, Mike, served in the Navy,” she says. “I was raised with a family of uncles who served in the Army, Navy and Marine Corp. Operation Santa Bag is very near and dear to my heart. When my son became a U.S. soldier and was deployed to Iraq, the care packages became a routine all over again. Needless to say, I am a very proud mom!”
Despite Operation Santa Bag’s honorable intentions, Becker has encountered a few real Scrooges in her quest to fulfill the operation’a goal. Lowe’s Home Improvement (among a few others Becker was hesitant to name) declined her request for donations because she fails to have a formal nonprofit status. She also has heard inevitable sentiments from others like, “Let their family send stuff; that’s their job, right?” The reality is, many military families can’t afford to send packages bulging to the brim with goodies during the holiday season. And many don’t know how or what to include in a care package. A laundry list of items won’t survive the trip overseas. It can get overwhelming for those new to military life and away from their loved one for the first time. Communal efforts like Operation Santa Bag make the experience easier to understand, more enjoyable to endure, and provide the tools to go about it solo the next time.
“As long as there is someone away from home and away from their family that can receive a package, I’ll ship it,” Becker promises. “Operation Santa Bag will continue. This project is a community project; no one person could do this on their own. Our troops need to understand that their community stands behind them and they are not forgotten. The more people we get involved the better. Providing for our troops should be all of our responsibility. After all, they provide for all of us.”
As the deadline to help Operation Santa Bag slowly approaches, the giving spirit of the season is appearing to pick up pace. There’s a chance that this year may be their most successful yet, as the outpouring of absolute generosity from private residents of Hampstead and our Port City is growing. Many businesses have made up for what big corporations wouldn’t donate. Harris Teeter at Mayfaire and Porter’s Neck provided gift cards, so Becker bought items like breakfast drinks, hot chocolate and hard candy.
Still, Operation Santa Bag needs a few more items and help to reach their goal. Becker would like to send: 100 packs of playing cards, beef jerky, footballs, baby wipes, 100 candy canes, reading material, like books and magazines, 100 single packs of tissues, and flavoring for water, such as Gatorade, Propell or Crystal Light (a simple treat that any service member will tell you is considered gold). Monetary donations are, of course, welcomed as well. Last year’s cost to ship care packages to 135 men and women overseas was above $400. This year Operation Santa Bag ambitiously aims to reach out to 250 service members—that’s a whole unit, basically. Thus far, $525 has been raised.
The event to fill each handmade Santa bag (handsewn in vibrant patriotic colors by the Wilmington chapter of The North Carolina Sorosis Foundation) will take place on Saturday, November 15, at 320 S. Cardinal Dr. in Wilmington at the North Carolina Sorosis Foundation Club House at 9 a.m. Respectfully, only children old enough to stuff a Santa bag should attend with their parents, please.
To keep track of the needs of Operation Santa Bag and to follow the unit where the bags are going visit, http://operationsantabag2010.blogspot.com.
Operation Santa Bag
Nov. 15, 9 a.m.
NC Sorosis Foundation Club House
20 S. Cardinal Dr.