Alisha Lange went through a difficult year in 2015, so she set out to help others before the calendar reached its conclusion.
One of her ideas involved donating items to military members overseas, but Lange didn't know if that would make an impact. But after discussing the possibility with her husband, a military veteran, she decided to move forward.
"I had said, 'It's not much, it's not really anything,' " Lange said. "He looked at me and explained to me, … 'You have no idea how much it means.' "
With her husband's vote of confidence, Lange founded Christmas for Heroes. The annual program gathers gifts, letters and monetary donations to buy supplies, all of which are shipped to military members abroad in time for the holiday season.
"I wanted to give Christmas to people who weren't able to have Christmas," Lange said.
The program is now in its fifth year and has grown over time. Lange shipped 28 large flat-rate boxes the first year, 50 the year after that and 75 last year. She has a goal of sending 150 boxes this year filled with toiletries, nonperishable food, holiday clothing and games to soldiers in places like Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait.
Lange is not a military veteran but has many friends and family who have served or are serving. She said troops are not supported enough domestically, so this is a small way of letting them know that Americans are thinking about them.
"They don't get told enough that we love them, that we support them, we care about them," Lange said. "They matter and … we care enough to give them something to fight for."
The deadline for donations to the program this year was in late November.
Sue Nelson, general manager and assistant vice president mortgage loan officer at Citizens State Bank, oversaw one of the sites where people could drop off gifts. When Lange inquired about the bank serving as a drop site earlier this year, Nelson accepted without hesitation.
Nelson has a personal connection to the program. Her son has been in the Marines since 2003 and is stationed in Okinawa, Japan.
Nelson said efforts like Christmas for Heroes can help provide a small sense of comfort for military members.
"Some soldiers don't have the family connection, so if this brings a smile on their face and we have the opportunity to show our support to them, why wouldn't you?" Nelson said.
Nelson said the bank plans to continue serving as a drop site in the future and called it great to be part of the program's growth.
Christmas for Heroes has expanded more than Lange expected, largely through word of mouth. In the future, she aims to make the program a nonprofit organization.
For now, everything is handled through donations by local individuals and businesses. Some gifts are shipped to a specific person serving overseas, while Lange sends other donations to military units that divide the items among soldiers. Lange doesn't know most of the people on the receiving end of the gifts, but a few troops have sent her cards of appreciation.
The program accepts donations year-round, but Lange said most of them occur in October and November. According to Lange, all of the monetary donations go toward shipping costs and shopping trips to buy more supplies.
Lange worries about meeting her goal of packages sent this year, but that is a good concern to have.
"It doesn't matter if we send 25 boxes this year or 150," Lange said. "If we're sending something, that makes me happy."