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Special Delivery: Helping Soldiers Play Santa

Soldiers deployed during Christmas can send holiday cheer to their wives and mothers back home, thanks to mom-turned-Santa Claus.
Vicki Durfee and Lisa Kaltenbach Miller
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Rhea Anna

The Christmas crunch starts in August. By the time December rolls around, Vickie Durfee's Rochester, New York, home is overflowing with ribbons, tags, tape, and dozens of boxes of makeup. "There's more than one morning I see the sun rise, and that's not because I'm up early," she says.

If you think you have a lot of people on your Christmas list, imagine buying, wrapping, and mailing hundreds of presents across the country. That's the race-against-the-clock scramble Durfee, 54, faces every year. Her organization, Full Circle Home (FCH), sends holiday gifts to the mothers, wives, and girlfriends of deployed soldiers.

"The program is about connecting people," she says. "We are taking care of the women who are supporting the men who are fighting for us. So many folks want to help soldiers, but they don't know how. This gives them the opportunity."

The idea for the organization started with a favor. In 2006 Vickie's son Gil was stationed with his Marine squad in Beirut. He asked his mom to send his fiancee, Ashley, a Christmas present. Simply getting to a computer to order flowers was tough, he says. "You don't have a phone you can always use and you rarely have an Internet connection, so getting the people in your life gifts or showing them an expression of love is very difficult," says Gil, now 25. "And that's what got the ball rolling."

Vickie, a sales director at Mary Kay, thought up a "12 Days of Christmas" set filled with the brand's makeup and pampering products. She wrapped and tagged each day's present so Ashley knew what order to open them in. The gifts—and a handwritten card from Gil—all went into a giant jewel-toned box. Ashley, now 24, was floored. She was usually the one sending packages, not receiving them. "It was great to see how much care and love was in the gift, knowing that it was coming from him, and that Vickie put all this thought into how she would give it to me," says Ashley. "And it made the absence easier. It's like he was right there when I opened it." Vickie recalls, "I could hear the smile in Gil's voice when he told me that Ashley received her present. The gift went both ways."