Operation Guardian Angel opens Santa’s Hut

Donations for care packages sought


Neil and Brenda Smith sort items donated at various businesses at "Santa's Hut" in the Coca-Cola Community Room. The item are being collected and sorted for Operation Guardian Angel.

Neil and Brenda Smith sort items donated at various businesses at "Santa's Hut" in the Coca-Cola Community Room. The item are being collected and sorted for Operation Guardian Angel. Photo by Stephen Brooks.

In time for Thanksgiving, four-pound individual boxes will be sent to 1,160 sailors and marines aboard the deployed U.S.S. Green Bay.

That will require lots of local donations of hygiene and entertainment items and individually wrapped snacks to the Santa’s Hut, open 2-4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday through Nov. 15 at the Coca-Cola Community Room.

Neil and Brenda Smith have volunteered with the Veterans Appreciation Night Committee for several years. This year the couple additionally volunteered to help collect the donations for Operation Guardian Angel.

The 2012 project follows 2011’s Operation Tyler, to support Tyler Huffman, a Mid-Missouri marine wounded while serving in Afghanistan.

The U.S. Marines and U.S. Navy corpsman who helped rescue Huffman have been dubbed his “guardian angels.”

Marines David Castillo and Blake Watson will be honored guests during the Veteran’s Appreciation Night dinner at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 8 at the Jefferson City High School cafeteria. They also will accompany Huffman at several local speaking engagements that week.

U.S. Navy corpsman Jesse Miller and Marine Jose Santiago are aboard the U.S.S. Green Bay. Local organizers decided to honor their shipmates along with them with the care packages, which should arrive in time for Christmas.

Neil Smith served as a U.S. Army officer in Vietnam.

“Those guys over there, they’re 800 fighting marines on a ship with nothing to do but train,” Neil Smith said. “We can really spark their lives by sending some things to them.”

To volunteer for packing on Nov. 17, call 584-8668.

Donations may be made 2-4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday or Friday at the Santa’s Hut or at dozens of participating stores across town.

A project of this size takes many volunteers. After items are dropped off, more than 80 volunteers will be needed to sort them into individualized boxes.

With guidance from the Marine Parents based in Columbia, the Smiths are learning the most efficient ways to store, sort and send these donated items, Neil Smith said.

And they are double-checking donations not on the recommended list to see whether the sailors could use items, such as individually wrapped Ramen noodles requiring access to a kitchen.

“What’s desirable on a ship may be slightly different than for our guys on land,” Neil Smith noted.

In addition to the treats and creature comforts, each box for a sailor or marine will include a letter of thanks written by school children and a letter explaining Operation Guardian Angel.

Although individualizing the boxes will take more volunteer time, “it’s more personal,” Neil Smith said. “They won’t all be alike.”

Area businesses and individuals already have stepped up for this Veterans Day project.

The Department of Conservation has donated copies of its Conservationist magazine and a local dentist wrote a check for $1,000 after hearing about the effort from a patient.

The Smiths encourage schools and youth groups to get involved in the collection.

“You get a lot of synergy if you get a group doing it,” Neil Smith said.

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