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Storybooks for Soldiers connecting families at Christmas
It's tough being separated from loved ones serving in the armed forces. But it's especially challenging during holidays, particularly for children.
This Christmas a number of local families with members deployed overseas will be able to stay connected through Hallmark's Storybooks for Soldiers program, part of Operation Support Our Troops. Storybooks for Soldiers allows deployed servicemen to record a reading of the classic story "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" and send it to their children.
For Tricia Vaughn and her children, Logan, 6, and Abby, 4, this will be their first holiday season away from their father, Spc. David Vaughn. Vaughn is deployed in Afghanistan with the 1138th Engineer Company of the U.S. Army National Guard.
"We jumped at the opportunity to be involved in this project," Vaughn said. "My children will be able to have something from their father this Christmas who is so far away. They will be super excited."
Spc. Philip Ryan Kimbel of Jackson is stationed in Fort Hood, Texas, and will deploy to Afghanistan in early December. His family is scheduled to visit him in November and will take a book for him to record and leave with his family.
Kimbel's mother, Jodie, is excited to participate.
"This is a very good program," Kimbel said. "We are excited to leave it with his children. This is something they can keep and enjoy at any time. It is important to stay connected with family. Supporting the military is important to keep morale up."
Both Kimbel and Vaughn learned about Storybooks for Soldiers through David Hitt. Hitt was introduced to the program through the Kirlin's Hallmark store in Cape Girardeau and has coordinate the local effort.
The books were paid for by the Jackson VFW Post 10495, American Legion Post 158 and the Jackson Noon Optimist Club. Other local organizations are also helping spread the word about the program.
Hitt said several families who have a deployed serviceman and children under age 10 have been identified, but more are welcome to participate. He added that with the help of the participating organizations, they were able to provide the storybooks at no cost to the families.
Wanda Young, of the Jackson Women's Noon Optimist Club, said they were looking for a project to help military children when Hitt contacted them.
"We are excited to help," Young said. "These children are not organized, but have a need different from anyone else. We like to help as many children as we can improve the quality of their lives, and we are fortunate to be involved. It is important to maintain connections between soldiers and children."
Hitt said it's important for children and parents to be connected like this during the Christmas season.
"They can keep in touch and have a fantastic keepsake when they return," Hitt said. "Keeping families in touch with each other is hard during Christmas, and this project is a way to connect."
Those with a family member deployed are welcome to participate. The targeted deadline to send the books off for the servicemen to record and return before Christmas is the end of September, but Hitt said they will not turn down families that request a book after Sept. 30.
To participate or for more information, call Hitt at 204-1068 or send an email to email@example.com.