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Part of what makes the holidays a special time of year is spending time with loved ones.

But deployed service members don’t have that luxury. There are no holiday breaks, no Christmas vacations. There are no presents under the tree – and more often than not, no tree. This was the case for a deployed Army unit serving overseas in the Middle East.

When Madison teen Brenna Oxley found out from a family friend that her husband’s fellow Soldiers were not receiving any mail or care packages from home, Oxley, along with the help of the Discovery Middle School’s Junior Student 2 Student club, decided to bring the holidays to the Soldiers.

Initially, Oxley’s family adopted one Soldier but Oxley wanted to help more. She brought Bravo Company 115th ESB’s story to the JS2S club at Discovery. Her classmates, several of whom have parents serving or have served, quickly agreed to adopt the unit as their service project and create 100 care boxes for the Soldiers.

“Brenna has taken this and run with it,” the club’s advisor, teacher Sara Baragona, said.

What started out as a club project has expanded into a school-wide initiative. Baragona, whose classroom has been taken over by donations, said all of her classes have pitched in to bring items for the care boxes. The students have taken turns sorting out the items – Baragona said that several students have asked if they can help pack the boxes. While the stacks are piling up, Oxley and Baragona said they still need items to complete the boxes. Items still needed include baby wipes, laundry pods, sunscreen, ziplock bags, dryer sheets, tissues, batteries, air fresheners, condiment packets – small things that are taken for granted but are valuable commodities to service members in a distant land.

“If you go to Chick-fil-A, pick up a handful of mayo (packets), they don’t care,” Oxley said.

In an increasingly digital world, some of the most needed supplies could be considered old-fashioned.

“We still need writing supplies (pen, paper, envelopes) so they can write to their families,” Oxley said.

The JS2S members began packing the boxes Monday, but have run into another challenge. Each box costs $20 to ship, meaning the students need to raise $2,000 to complete their holiday mission. Baragona said they are accepting individual donations but also hope to partner with a sponsor that could help fund the cost.

“They are super proud of what we have collected,” Baragona said. “The hurdle now is shipping costs.”

During the school’s annual Veterans Day program Nov. 9, students with a family member who has served in the armed forces were asked to stand up, resulting in a large wave of students rising in tribute. For many of her classmates, Oxley said, the care boxes are not just a project, they are personal.

“I think (the military kids) were like, ‘we should help them because we know what it is like,’” she said.

Anyone wishing to contribute to the care boxes can drop off donations at the Discovery Middle School front office until the school closes for holiday break Dec. 20. A list of items needed can be found at http://dms.madisoncity.k12.al.us/?PageName=%27OrganizationPage%27&OrganizationID=%2741728%27.

Cash donations toward shipping cost will also be accepted at the front office. For more information, email the club’s faculty sponsors Baragona at

sjbaragona@madisoncity.k12.al.us, Melissa Grayson at mgrayson@madisoncity.k12.al.us, or the club at dmsjs2s@gmail.com.

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