VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Travis Diperna, an eight-year Navy veteran, had to miss holidays with his family on a few occasions while deployed. Still, he said he was still able to receive some holiday cheer.
“During those deployments, you receive a care package, and the way it makes you feel is like Christmas at sea,” Diperna said.
So did Chelsea Mandella.
"As a former military service member, I can't tell you how great it is to receive a care package, especially a care package for Christmas," Mandella said.
That's why Mandella started the annual "Holiday Pack Event," where volunteers make and send care packages for service members stationed abroad during the holidays. Mandella is also the founder and CEO of Troopster, a non-profit organization that assists military veterans, active service members and their spouses.
The event is in its fifth year, and Diperna said he has helped each year since it began.
"Knowing that each one of these care packages are going to go and make somebody's day, maybe make somebody's week, just fills me with joy," Diperna said.
This year’s goal was 3,000 care packages. The care packages consist of items such as shampoos, toothbrushes and even snacks.
"I love getting to send this many. Really, every year, we've been growing more and more," Mandella said. "Our first year we only sent 500."
Saturday's packing event was held inside a shuttered Food Lion supermarket. Volunteers, wearing face masks and staying six feet apart, filled boxes with items donated by local businesses and a customized Christmas card for each package.
The boxes were shipped the same day, but will the care packages arrive on time?
"Because we're sending packages out to so many service members, many of them will receive them in just a couple weeks, while others will get them right at Christmas time," Mandella said.