When Kellie Theisen's son first enlisted in the Navy, and when he was deployed to Iraq in 2008, she was floored by the generosity that strangers offered him.
"The first year he came home for Christmas in 2005 after enlisting, he said people voluntarily paid for all his food and drinks in the airport," Theisen, a Plymouth resident, remembered. "Someone at [the airport] even came up to him and handed him a Minnesota Vikings t-shirt."
It was the generosity of strangers that drove Theisen, a clerical educational assistant at Armstrong High School in Plymouth, to give back to soldiers this year.
Theisen organized a school-wide effort to send care packages to toops overseas. Staff donated money to help purchase items, gift cards, and pay for shipping.
Last week, Theisen and Armstrong staff successfully stuffed five boxes full of necessities like socks, razors, dental floss and batteries.
Staff also included a few pleasant surprises, like an Armstrong T-shirt, Christmas stockings and magazines. Probably the most heart-felt inclusion came from students from Rosie McCullagh and Danielle Krause's classes. Students wrote letters and made cards for five soldiers.
But how could staff decide who to send boxes to? The decision was easy.
Wisconsin Army National Guard soldier Dan Janda - Armstrong graduate and son of an ISD 281 employee and Maple Grove resident Jane Janda - is the recipient of one of the boxes. Jane contacted her son to get a list of soldiers who could use some holiday cheer, and added four more to the list.
"I think the thing that will mean the most for our troops is knowing that people, even strangers, are thinking about them and support their efforts," Jane said. "Plus, they love getting anything that reminds them of home. This will certainly brighten their days, especially at this time of year."