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Bainbridge woman on holiday mission of good will

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Little kids sometimes wonder how Santa Claus delivers all that stuff around the globe in just one night.

If Shari Morisset feels a little of Santa’s pain this week, she also understands some of the miracle.

“I’m kind of in shock today that we pulled it off,” she said.

In a lightning-speed project inspired by her son John’s interest in World War II, the islander spent two weeks collecting and boxing materials to create holiday care packages for U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq. She loaded them into her van and sent them off Thursday via U.S. Post.

It began with a personal connection. John’s grandfather died en route home from serving in WWII. The wish to understand more of his experience compelled the 10-year-old to learn what day-to-day life might have been like for those serving overseas.

He and his mom found themselves particularly moved as they read aloud “The Longest Day,” Cornelius Ryan’s account of the D-Day invasion of Normandy, which included pictures of care packages some of the soldiers received.

“As we talked about the men and women in World War II, we just started to feel so grateful,” Morisset said. “I said, ‘I wish there were something we could do (for our soldiers); it would be nice to let them know we’re thinking about them.’ And he said, ‘Why don’t we make some care packages like the ones they got?’

“I said, that’s a great idea – we could write letters, we could send things,” she said.

Unsure of where to start, Morisset contacted the post office, which advised her that for security reasons, each package she sent would have to be addressed to an actual soldier and not just an anonymous one. Since she didn’t know anyone serving, she posted a message to the online group IslandMoms asking for tips.

A lead came through, and she was put in touch with Maj. Michael McCurty and Capt. Peter Nienhaus of the 42nd MP Brigade, located at Camp Bucca near Umm Qasr, on the Iraq-Kuwait border.

Originally, Morisset thought she was going to get 25 names of deserving soldiers. Instead, they sent the entire roster.

“There were a hundred names on there,” she said. “My son and I went, hey, do you think we could pull this off and do every single soldier in this brigade? It was this big dream.”

She put a drop box outside Safeway and put a call out to everyone she knew, put a community calendar notice in the Review, and posted on IslandMoms again. The response was fast and abundant, and having actual names seemed to inspire generosity, especially because all members of the brigade were based at Fort Lewis.

Some individuals adopted a single soldier while others donated multiple items to be distributed as needed. Approved care package items included magazines, books, toiletries, DVDs, dried fruit and other snacks, powdered drink mix and above all, good coffee.

Organizations also got on board, including Winslow Drug, Island Country Inn, the Girl Scouts, T&C and Safeway, dental offices, Silver Screen Video and the American Legion, as well as Andante Coffee, which donated 30 bags.

She received more letters than she did donations, enough to put one written by a child and one written by an adult into each package.

“And such precious letters, oh my gosh,” she said. “I read some of the most moving children’s letters before I sent them, and I thought, they are going to be crying.”

She spent the early part of this week packing and labeling boxes with the help of a friend, after which she and John dropped them all off at the Post Office in Winslow.

Afterward, like Santa Claus must do on Dec. 26, she sat down and breathed. Then immediately began planning for future shipments.

“I just kept saying to my son, this is the best Christmas we’ve ever had.”

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