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Veterans, their families receive surprise Christmas with annual giveaway

Enid News & Eagle - 12/7/2021

Dec. 7—LOYAL — Anthony and Ashlee Hahn were enjoying a "Friendsgiving" on Sunday evening at their home in Loyal when all of a sudden, dozens of flashing lights appeared before their eyes.

The Hahns and their three sons, Gunner, Bradlee and Aiden, had no clue that two Loyal Fire Department trucks, a Kingfisher County Sheriff's Office deputy's vehicle and around a dozen more cars would show up to bring them a surprise Christmas.

One by one, Santa Claus handed out Christmas presents to the kids and then presented Anthony and Ashlee with a $1,500 gift card, all as part of Wounded Veterans of Oklahoma's Operation Christmas Drop.

"This means more than I have words for," said Anthony, a U.S. Army veteran. "We were just talking yesterday, going, 'How in the world are we going to pull this off this month?' I don't have the words for it."

"It's a miracle," Ashlee added.

Wounded Veterans of Oklahoma is a support group and resource for helping veterans transition from the armed forces to civilian life, and assists veterans from all foreign wars, fire departments, police departments and sheriff's departments.

Operation Christmas Drop began around five years ago as a way to help veterans and first responders and their families who may be struggling in any way for the holidays, said Shane Vegoren, vice president of the Northwest Chapter of WVO.

"This is just another way for us to give back to our nation's heroes and help somebody that is in need," Vegoren said.

Every year, WVO asks for nominations in a Facebook post, and from those, a committee selects the families who will be the recipient of Operation Christmas Drop, said J.D. Dennis, chief operations officer of WVO and president of the board. Depending on donations, between six and 10 families are chosen each year.

Relatives or friends of the families provide WVO with a Christmas wish list; the presents and Christmas dinner foods are bought; and then WVO rounds up local members of law enforcement and first responders, along with other volunteers, to parade to the families' homes.

"Typically, there's a lot of shock and emotions (from the families)," Dennis said. "There's usually a lot of laughter and a lot of tears."

This year's Operation Christmas Drop kicked off on Friday in Enid. Charles Rogers, a U.S. Navy veteran who has cancer, and his wife Natasha and daughter Holly were the first family on Santa's list.

Like the Hahns, the Rogers family had no idea.

"This is just remarkable," Charles said. "We've never really seen veterans around or asked for help ... and they just came out of nowhere to help us."

"We feel blessed, for sure," Natasha said. "We're just very thankful."

An Operation Christmas Drop for another Enid veteran and his family was scheduled for Sunday, but due to an unexpected medical emergency, it was postponed. Three more will be in the Oklahoma City area.

Dennis said Operation Christmas Drop lets veterans and their families know that they are supported.

"This just lifts up their spirits, knowing that there are people out there that care," Dennis said.

Anthony said he now knows that that support is real.

"It's something people say all the time, but sometimes, it doesn't always feel that way," he said. "Now, with this — I just have no words."

McKendrick is police and court reporter for the Enid News & Eagle.

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