Mother inspires community to support deployed soldiers

Tammy Sharp

What began as two parents wanting to make sure their children had a merry Christmas in a war zone has turned into a community opening its arms to two platoons.

Longtime couple John Chavis and Nikkie Creppel wanted to make sure their sons would have a touch of home and a taste of Christmas despite their recent deployments to war zones. Creppel's son, Casey, 21 and a graduate of Leesville High School, is stationed in Afghanistan with the 1-3 Marines of Hawaii, she said.

"He's just getting there this week," she explained. Casey's deployment is set to last seven months.

Chavis, a retired sergeant first class, said goodbye to his son, Shaun Chavis, 25, of Fort Lewis, Wash., last July and expects him back in July 2010. Shaun, deployed to Basrah, Iraq, is with the 308 BSB 17th Fires Brigade.

"Knowing that they wouldn't be able to be home for Thanksgiving and Christmas tore at my heart," Nikkie said. "After our children came home this summer for a visit and we found out that both would be deployed this year for the holidays, I knew then, I (had) to do something."

That something at first was simple: Make a Christmas stocking for each soldier in each platoon, bathe it in prayer and send it on its way.

The project of sewing 69 stockings took five months, she said, with John keeping her on track  by making fabric runs and keeping count of how many were left to be made.

"Every stocking that I would sew, I would think about that individual and pray that (he or she would) come home safe," she said. 

When her friend Jo Stepp, bar manager at American Legion Post 145, heard about the project, she wanted in too, said Nikkie, whose original intention was to mail all of the stockings in one big box to each of the platoons. Stepp had a better idea. Why not send separate care packages to each soldier?

Before long, people from all over the community, including various businesses, were making donations. Harold Braman, a Son of the Legion, raised more than $1,500 himself, said Nikkie. The Legion conducted two auctions and organized a drop-off site for items to be put in the packages.

Shaun's sister, a fourth grade teacher in Lawtell, got her school involved as well and embarked on a three-month collection campaign, with teachers and students alike collecting items for individual care packages to be shipped to each  soldier. Leesville High School's special education department also got in on the action, as did the various military non-profit organizations in the area.

In all, the American Legion shipped out 90 boxes on Tuesday, including 10 to a Fort Polk MP unit and various other deployed soldiers.

"We had to make an appointment at the post office," Nikkie said as she organized the boxes on a flat-bed trailer just before sending them off.

The boxes, heavy with all sorts of goodies, including candy, personal hygiene products, reading material, the stockings and more than a few prayers, are en route now to soldiers half a world away. But perhaps the most important contents of each box are the heartfelt words of the woman whose mother's heart began the project: "I want you to know I thought about you," Nikkie wrote in a letter, a copy of which is also included in each box. "You are a special person and you are loved and deserve the very best. You are serving our country,  and we are proud of you."

Leesville Daily Leader