By Elizabeth Marie Himchak
Brightening the holiday season for military members serving overseas is as easy as filling a stocking with small gifts such as snacks, hygiene items and playing cards by Dec. 8.
Operation Stuff-A-Stocking, founded by Poway resident Sammy Lizarraga, is returning because her older brother, Joey, is once again stationed overseas during Christmas.
His presence in the Middle East not only inspired the project, but without her brother and his C-130 crew flying to Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait, the stockings could not get distributed. The 15-year-old said she mails them to her brother who leaves the stockings with various American units.
She first organized the project three years ago to earn her Girl Scout Silver Award. That time, her goal was to collect 300 filled stockings, but received 639 due to the efforts of local children, teens and adults who embraced the endeavor.
“I was really amazed,” Lizarraga said, recalling how her family’s home was filled with stuffed stockings. “The fact that so many got involved was awesome.”
While she has not set a goal, Lizarraga said it would be nice to ship 800 or 900 stockings this
The Rancho Bernardo High sophomore said once again she plans to include a letter with each stocking, telling recipients about the project.
Last time, some recipients sent her emails to express their appreciation and included photos of them holding their stockings. A selection of their comments and photos was incorporated into a YouTube video made to describe the project. To view, go to YouTube.com and search for “Operation Stuff-A-Stocking.”
One letter she received was from a service member in Iraq. Lizarraga said he told her that on Christmas Day he was by himself and the only food he had to eat was that included in his stocking.
“It is one of the things I will never forget,” she said.
Her mother, Alison Lizarraga, said she and her husband, Alex, both served in the Marine Corps and know first-hand how lonely it can be when stationed overseas during the holidays.
“The men and women are out there, serving our country, making so many sacrifices,” Alison Lizarraga said. “It was very hard on my first deployment with a Black Sheep squadron. I had been in the Marine Corps for three months and they sent me to Japan in the beginning of December. It was my first Christmas away from my family and not anything compared to what (service members) are going through now.”
Because Sammy Lizarraga’s brother plans to leave the Air Force this spring after completing his third deployment to Afghanistan, she does not know if the project can be repeated in future years. Lizarraga said she would like to do it again, but needs someone in the military willing to do the delivery like her brother has done.
Last time, local organizations came to her aid when it came to covering the shipping cost that totaled more than $4,000. Part of the money she earned by collecting water bottles in her middle school’s locker rooms and recycling them, but Lizarraga said now that she is in high school that is not an option.
She estimates it will cost $100 to ship a box filled with 30 stuffed stockings. If anyone would like to sponsor a box they may do so by making a donation through a PayPal. Contact her at SammysStockings@cox.net or 858-602-6336 for details.
Those who would like to donate one or more stuffed stockings — or items to fill a stocking — must do so by Dec. 8. Leave at 15135 Amso St. in Poway, or if there are many stockings contact Lizarraga to arrange a pickup.
Standard-size Christmas stockings are ideal. Lizarraga said some stores sell them for $1. They can be filled with unwrapped items on a military-approved list. (See sidebar for suggestions.) Donors are welcome to include a card or letter, but it cannot be in a sealed envelope.
Lizarraga said checks each stocking and makes an inventory list. A pink ribbon is attached if items are for a female service member, blue if male and white if for either.
Suggested items to include in stockings: • Toiletries and first aid supplies — baby wipes, liquid hand sanitizer, travel-size shampoo and conditioner, moisturizing cream, soap, facial wipes, toothpaste, toothbrush, floss, Q-tips, razors, soft tissues, bandages, sunscreen, nail files and clippers, foot and body powder, non-aerosol deodorant, lip balm and eye moisturizing drops. • Food items — tuna or canned chicken, small squeezable bottles of mayonnaise, soup and noodle cups, small packets of sugar, candy or gum (only if made in the U.S.), mini boxes of cereal, pre-popped popcorn, snack cakes, pudding that does not need refrigeration, beef jerky, nuts, ice tea, lemonade, hot chocolate mix and individual flavoring for water. • Downtime items — puzzle, crossword and word search books, note paper, stationary, pens, envelopes, pens, playing cards, batteries, balls, gloves and Frisbees. Items not allowed: • Homemade food, candy or cookies, alcoholic beverages, perfumes, colognes, hairspray, matches, butane, flea and tick collars and sprays, shaving creams, cleaning agents, aerosols, anything under pressure, flammables, corrosives, toxins, religious or political materials, magazines, pork or pork products.