LAUGHLIN — The holidays will be a bit brighter for about 4,000 U.S. military personnel, thanks to the efforts of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Laughlin.
The church, with the help of area businesses and volunteers, has filled boxes for troops across the nation and around the globe. It has become an annual holiday tradition for the church, according to Fr. Charlie Urnick.
A wounded Urnick, who currently has the use of only one arm after an accidental fall, oversaw the filling of the boxes with foodstuffs, toiletries, goodies and other items donated by parishioners, Tri-state residents and the Laughlin casinos with the aid of 40-plus volunteers.
They got the job done in two days.
Stacks and stacks of the holiday care packages lined the walls of St. John’s.
Urnick explained how the church reaches so many deployed troops and veterans across the Southwest. He said that the church gets requests from parishioners with family members deployed overseas as well as from veterans’ homes from Nevada to California and beyond.
The church has a pattern they hand out of a holiday Christmas stocking and a form that gives instructions on how to donate to the troops and veterans. They hand out the forms to parishioners and also mail them to people and organizations outside of Laughlin throughout the fall. People use the pattern to make their own Christmas stockings out of a variety of materials — paper, felt, cotton and other fabrics — and either glue them or sew them together or mail them to the church and volunteers who sew put them together.
On the form is a list of items most sought by the troops and veterans. They include: playing cards (mostly provided by the Laughlin casionos), toothbrushes, hard candy (no chocolates as they melt), disposable razors, hand lotion, lip balm, individual snacks (peanuts, protein bars, gum, mints) and travel-size toiletries.
The church adds its own items to the finished stockings such as Kleenex and other amenities not readily found on deployment. Volunteers then go through the arduous task of packaging them all into shipping boxes of various sizes depending on where the stockings are bound for. Many of the boxes are hand-delivered to places like Nellis Air base, Creech Air Force Base, LAX USO station in Los Angeles and veterans homes. The boxes are either then sent to service members deployed overseas or distributed to troops on base or veterans in homes across the two states.
Urnick said that they collect enough of the stockings and supplies every year to meet the 4,000 quota they seek, and then some. He said this year they went well past that figure due to generous donations from all their sources.
Family Dollar of Laughlin Nevada got in on the action this year. Urnick asked the business to produce 4,000 boxes of Kleenex, which they sell at the store. The clerk he spoke with said their district manager did the ordering for the store and asked him to look into it. The district manager produced the boxes of tissues and didn’t charge the church sales tax for them due to church’s status as a tax-exempt organization.
The boxes full of stockings were packed into the shipping boxes in under 48 hours with the 40-person volunteer team working all day Tuesday and finishing up Wednesday afternoon. Rows and rows of the stacked boxes gave quiet testimony to the dedication and hard work that Urnick and the St. John’s parishioners, volunteers and staff put out each year to bring a little holiday joy into the lives of those serving as well as those who have served.