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Christmas cheer for Guard families in Oregon

by: J. Brian Monihan, 
Volunteers in Lake Oswego help load boxes of goodies Saturday that will help National Guard families in Oregon.

Santa Claus is getting a lot of assistance from local residents in helping National Guard families during the Christmas season.

While 300 National Guardsmen of the 82nd Brigade serve in Iraq, people in Lake Oswego and West Linn are showing they appreciate their service by helping their families back home.

'These are hard times for deployed soldiers overseas and their families at home,' said Lt. Col. Robert J. Mouw, 82nd Brigade Deputy Commander and administrative officer of the Oregon National Guard Armory in Lake Oswego. 'Obviously, the Lake Oswego community is getting involved.

'It's just sort of happening. We show up here and there's a lot of stuff here for the families.'

One of the most unique efforts came from the Lake Oswego Rotary Club, which sent 20 big Christmas boxes off to Guard families last Saturday. It turned into a party in the parking lot of the Lake Oswego Fire Department's station on Avenue B, with Rotarians and their family members loading up boxes in a truck provided by the National Guard.

'For years the Lake Oswego Rotary Club has been putting holiday baskets together for needy families,' said Curt Kirkemo, who headed up the project. 'This time we decided to do something different and help the families of soldiers serving overseas.'

Since not a lot of Guard families live in the Lake Oswego area, the Lake Oswego Rotarians decided to branch out and send their Christmas boxes to 20 families in the northwest part of Oregon.

And excellent boxes they are, worth $150 and filled with food to make a holiday meal for a family of five and toys for boys and girls.

Needy local families won't be forgotten. Rotary will also be delivering 15 boxes in the area.

'This was an exciting idea,' Kirkemo said. 'We got it from a former Lake Oswego person now living in Florida. It's the type of idea where everyone in Rotary says, 'Wow, that's a great idea!'

'This is a great idea because these are young people with young families and they're struggling right now. We are asking them to do large things. It means even more when you think that some of the families live in areas that were hit hard by the recent storms. This is a feel-good project that is great for Rotary overall.'

Kirkemo noted that loading boxes and spreading good cheer is a great way to get filled with the Christmas spirit.

'Mostly, Rotary is in check- writing mode,' he said. 'With this we get together and do something. It's particularly good for Rotarians with children because it gives them a different sense of what Christmas is all about.'

Some of the gifts for Guardsmen and families have been quite surprising. Like 3,000 Christmas trees being distributed by the Oregon Christmas Tree Association.

'Every single one got distributed to a Guard member,' said Sgt. Keith Duplessie.

Every tree, toy and food item is much appreciated. As one soldier put it, 'many of these families are going through hard times one way or another.'

'Quite a few of our soldiers were affected by the recent flooding,' said 1st Sgt. David White. 'Wives and children were by themselves, and they had to deal with that on top of everything else.

'Our support groups are trying to get to these families first.'

Capt. Eric Walstrom said, 'Our family readiness groups are the ones who facilitate this. They find the family and we deliver what's needed.'

Other ways Guardsmen are being helped during this Christmas season:

* A 'USO Show' put on by a church.

* A video conference in Salem in which family members got to talk to troops overseas. White noted, 'One was real touching. A 15-year-old daughter told her dad she loved him.'

* The 82nd Brigade's holiday celebration at the armory.

* Biz Mart donated electronic equipment to a Guard family.

* Moose Munch from Harry and David's.

* Clothing items from Pendleton.

* Lots of 'care packages' from family support groups and churches.