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Sending some Christmas cheer overseas

Mary Jo Vermilyea, of Ironton, is familiar with the struggles servicemen and women face each day while they are serving their country. Her son, James Hopper, 28, is a sergeant in the Marine Corps and has been serving for seven years.

He is on his third deployment, his roughest so far, as this is the first time he has had to leave his two small children, and is expected to return in January.

Each person in the military is someone’s son or daughter who has their own stories and Vermilyea has taken action to make sure they know they’re not forgotten about.

A member of the Marine Corps Family Support Community, based in Columbus, Vermilyea set out to start a chapter locally about six years ago. MCFSC’s Tri-State Chapter is not just for family of Marine Corps servicemen, but covers all branches of the military.

“We are just a group of parents who get together for support of our boys and girls who are in the service,” she said. “We send packages year round for the ones from our group who have been deployed.”

At Christmas time, though, Vermilyea said they like to extend the list outside of the group to as many servicemen that they can.

“Last year we sent 116 packages,” she said. “This year we are hoping to send 150.”

Things she is hoping to collect include thick, black socks, 72-inch boot laces, AA or AAA batteries, travel-sized toiletry items, individually-packaged snacks, powdered drink mixes and hot chocolate, individual meals that do not need to be refrigerated, like Spaghettios, crossword books, CDs, DVDS, magazines and fleece blankets, just to name a few things.

“I was talking to a boy on the Internet the other day about blankets,” she said. “He said, ‘The blankets we’ve got are so itchy.’ The fleece blankets, they love them.”

Another thing she said they love is something as simple as a letter of support.

There are a few restrictions in items that can be sent.

“We don’t send pork, alcohol, or tobacco or anything that might go bad,” she said. “It will take anywhere from three to four weeks to get to some of them. It depends on where there located.”

Monetary donations are also accepted, which could help cover the postage or purchase some extra items. Vermilyea said they spent $1,200 on postage alone last year.

Pick ‘n Save in Ironton has a donation table set up to collect the items. Monetary donations can be mailed to Vermilyea at 1540 Florence Ave., Ironton, OH 45638, with checks made payable to MCFSC Tri-State Chapter, which is tax-deductible.

Vermilyea would also like as many names of servicemen and women currently deployed from the area so they can be added to the list to receive a package. She can be reached at (740) 532-5741.

Vermilyea wants to make sure the men and women serving are not forgotten about.

“We’ve got our men over there fighting for our freedom so that they don’t bring (fighting) over here,” she said. “People are forgetting about it. It is just as bad now as it was five years ago. Afghanistan has gotten worse over the past couple of years. We just want to bring cheer to the boys.”