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Operation St. Nick giving back to military families

MORRIS – Jessica Klein was almost in tears Monday remembering the wish she received through the 12 Days of Christmas Giving program.

“I was in tears,” Klein said about watching her two daughters open their gifts Christmas 2011. “I was in tears when they called and said our family was chosen. I was in tears when we met with Joe and Carol [Schmitz]. I was in tears on Christmas seeing my girls happy.”

Klein, who spent eight years in the Navy as an informational systems technician, was out of a job, behind on her bills and down on her luck that year.

But as fate would have it, Operation St. Nick came to her rescue.

Klein was one of the recipients of the 12 Days of Christmas Giving, a program sponsored Operation St. Nick and the Morris Daily Herald, that assists local military families in need during the Christmas season. Not only did the program pay off her mounting debt, but it also provided money for her to buy gifts for her daughters, who are 8- and 4-years-old.

The program is now entering its third year, as entries for this year’s recipients are being accepted today through Nov. 18. It seeks to repay some of those local men and women who are serving or who have served with a Christmas they will never forget.

“It pretty much meant everything,” Klein said about that Christmas. “I was a struggling single mom. I literally had nothing for my kids. I was behind on my bills. I was in debt. We were literally scraping by. It meant the world for us to have that Christmas.”

Current military personnel or those who have been honorably discharged are eligible for the $2,500 Christmas wish. Wishes will be granted to 12 families from Dec. 10 to 21.

Applicants must be a resident of Grundy County and submit their entries at the Morris Daily Herald, any Grundy County Standard Bank location or by visiting and clicking on the “12 Days of Christmas Giving” advertisement.

In the previous two years, the program has honored wishes such as paying off debt, paying rent, bringing a family member home for Christmas or providing families “the Christmas they deserve,” which was the case last year for Army veteran Joseph Rodeghero of Morris.

It’s people like Klein and Rodeghero who have Joe Schmitz, president of Operation St. Nick, proud of the program.

“This is the most rewarding, meaningful program for me, personally,” Schmitz said. “It’s been the high point of my 31 years with Operation St. Nick. These people serve our country and are deserving of our help.

“They don’t expect much. They want so little, even if they need the help. It’s just an incredible feeling to give back to them.”

Schmitz said the idea for the program came about in 2011 when the Operation St. Nick board found itself with an extra $15,000 from local donations. After some brainstorming, Schmitz said the group was overjoyed with the idea of helping 12 military families in need during the holidays.

The program spent $1,500 on each wish that first year, and then $2,000 in 2012.

An increase in donations has allowed Operation St. Nick to raise the amount to $2,500 for each wish in 2013.

“It’s a privilege to help them,” Schmitz said. “They’re just so grateful for it, too.”

Two years after receiving her Christmas wish, Klein is proudly operating her new store, Tattered Accents, which opened Sept. 7 at 303 E. Jackson St. in Morris. And Klein, still grateful for having received the help, feels it’s her duty to give back to the program that helped her.

Klein is donating an item from her business that will be used during Operation St. Nick’s Radio Auction, which is the fundraising engine that helps generate money for programs like 12 Days of Christmas Giving.

“We were lucky enough and blessed enough to get the help we needed when we needed it,” Klein said. “It’s the least that we can do is to give back to Operation St. Nick. To us, that’s what the holidays are about.”

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