SAGINAW TOWNSHIP (WJRT) -
(04/21/14) - This week, the "Great Lakes Bay Chapter" of the American Red Cross will honor community members who answer the call for help.
Our first "Everyday Heroes" haven't saved lives, but they sure have made the holidays bright.
ABC12's Rebecca Trylch introduces us to the "Yellow Ribbon Guard", who is being honored with the "Wally Bronner Community Spirit Award".
Did you know Santa Claus sometimes wears camouflage?
When he's on a very special mission in Mid-Michigan, it's the only outfit he packs.
"Everybody that hears this broadcast can give at least $1. That's all Santa asks, $1," Santa said.
That $1 can go a long way with the help of Santa's elves.
"Any soldier that is not home for Christmas, deserves to have something. They don't have to be in Afghanistan and Iraq. They just have to away from their family serving, and we make sure that they're taken care of," said Melissa Alex, of the Yellow Ribbon Guard.
While the 'Yellow Ribbon Guard' is hard at work year-round, the organization is best known for it's signature event dubbed 'Send Santa to the Troops'. It all starts in November, when it's time to stuff the bus.
"Saw they were doing it, thought it was important, so ran to Meijers, loaded up, brought it over," said Lisa Reyes, who donated items.
Jim Arnst also donated.
"I just think that these guys need a pat on the back, cause it's a tough job sometimes out there," he said.
Arnst, a Navy vet, vividly remembers what it felt like to get mail from home.
"I'll tell you what, you look forward to it. When the cookies come and you're at sea, it makes a huge difference, really huge difference," he said.
A lot of Vietnam vets give back. They want our troops to feel the appreciation they didn't get.
Others are complete strangers, while some have loved ones they miss dearly.
"I have a grandson that's in. And he's been to Afghanistan twice," said Eleanor Loubert.
Every year, the Guard is humbled when it's time to stuff the bus - or in this case - a military vehicle.
"People that don't have anything to give, they stop by and sign a Christmas card for us to be put into those boxes, because those things mean a lot too," Alex said.
This is just the beginning.
"It looks like chaos from the outside, but it's an organized chaos," said Travis George, of the Yellow Ribbon Guard.
After the snack food, games, toiletries - and any other imaginable "taste of home" is collected - Santa's helpers head to the National Guard Armory in Bay County.
"We have everything lined up, everything is ready to go, boxes are made," Alex said.
"We give you a box with an address, you make it personal, you put whatever you think that person might need," George said.
In 2013 alone, well over 1,000 packages were shipped - costing about $17,000 in postage.
"Just to bring home that two seconds of peace, solitude, whatever it provides a soldier, for each person it's different, but just to be able to do that, makes everything we go through to send Santa, worth it," Alex said.
Alex is well aware of the sacrifices our military members make. She spent 10 years as an Army wife before her husband, Staff Sergeant Eugene Alex, was killed in Iraq in 2006.
"I think it's just a healing process, you know. Nothing better than to give back to the ones you love," she said.
Not surprisingly, George has a personal reason for giving back as well.
"I pretty much got a package every month from my wife," he said. "There's people in the military that don't get that. There's people that get excited when they get their cell phone bill. That's their mail call."
Thanks to these amazing volunteers, it's not bills - but carefully crafted gift boxes that arrive on military bases far away from Mid-Michigan - just when our brave men and women are missing home the most.
Members of the 'Yellow Ribbon Guard' consider sending Santa to the the troops their most important mission.
"It might come close, but every year, the community comes through and we're able to make Christmas happen for these guys," Alex said.
"People that we get the most donations out of, we almost know that they probably can't afford it, and they're the ones that drive us to do what we do," George said.
The 'Yellow Ribbon Guard' will be honored this Wednesday at the "Everyday Heroes" banquet in Saginaw Township.