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In the spirit of Christmas

Vets, dependents in need receive gifts, food

Veterans’ families whose Christmas holiday looked bleak a few weeks ago were overwhelmed with donated gifts and food Wednesday from employees at the Spokane Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Navy veteran Sandy R. Avery was almost speechless as she and her five sons’ arms were loaded with gifts and a little cash.

“This is great. I was very surprised by it,” said Avery, who was with her family at a Coeur d’Alene transitional housing facility when VA Santas delivered the presents Wednesday.

“My wish came true,” Andrew Avery, 7, said after he discovered a hand-sewn bag filled with goodies. “I wanted a bag full of cookies.”

The first Operation Holiday Drive started in October. It was headed up by the VA facility’s employee association, which adopted 13 families, including 29 children, throughout the Inland Northwest.

“One family just asked for diapers,” said Frank Paulsen, a registered nurse who organized the drive. Officials quietly gathered information from each of the families to find out what to get them. Most of the items mentioned were needs rather than wants.

“But everyone in the families got something,” Paulsen said. “In most cases, they got multiple somethings.”

Sharon Helman, director of the VA hospital, called the drive a “labor of love,” adding, “We take care of veterans’ health care every day. It doesn’t stop there. This is just one act of kindness.”

A new crib, stroller and high chair along with clothes, shoes and gift cards were among the donated items.

Victor Avery, who turned 3 Wednesday, was so excited by all the wrapped gifts, he thought he’d try for one more. He ripped a candy cane off one package, handed it to a volunteer and said, “I need a box for this.”

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