News 12 at 6 o'clock / Sunday, Dec. 25, 2011
DENMARK, S.C. -- We introduced you the group earlier this week as they went shopping for Fort Gordon soldiers -- and today News 12's Laura Warren spent Christmas morning with them.
It felt like a family Christmas. It's called "Christmas in the Country," and it's all planned by South Carolina Family Fest. For the third year, soldiers from Fort Gordon were invited to stay with local families to have a down home Christmas. And the soldiers say it was a lot more than just opening presents.
"They feed us constantly, 24/7 -- It's ridiculous. They had a parade when we first got here, that was kinda nice. They took us out shopping, lots of activities," said Cpl. Jason Segers.
"My family lives in Michigan, so basically, I didn't have much else to do so I decided to stick around here," said PFC Steven Bentley.
And it's soldiers like Bentley that gave Holly Rimes the idea to start "Christmas in the Country" three years ago.
"I know you can't be with your family, so I hope this is the next best thing," she said.
When Rimes was at a meeting at Fort Gordon, she asked what the greatest need at the base was. The folks at Fort Gordon told her:
"Christmas was the largest problem because so many of the people are left behind in the barracks," Rimes said. "It's a depressing time to be left behind if you can't get home to your family."
So she made a few calls and found a cabin out in the country that was willing to let the soldiers stay for a few days during the holidays.
"I can take about 18 for Christmas, and it blossomed from there."
Three years later, the program is still making a huge difference.
"It's good to let us know that there are people who do care about us," Cpl. Segers said. " Because there's some people that hate the military -- it's bad. So it's nice to know that there are people out there who do care."
Twelve soldiers filled out their wish lists and headed to Denmark to celebrate Christmas with the Rimes family.
"With the donations we receive, we want to get them something they can use, something they will appreciate," Rimes told News 12.
Rimes says it takes a lot of help and a lot of donations from the community to make this a success.
"One person can't do it all. We have one person who organizes the food, one person who does all the wrapping for us, so the fingers just spread out through the community," she said.
And the reason she will keep this Christmas tradition going ...
"I think it's the least we can do," she said.
And the fun doesn't stop on Christmas. There's a huge going-away party for the soldiers Monday complete with an oyster roast, Lowcountry boil, and horse and buggy rides.
Rimes says a lot of the community will be stopping by to drop off food and just spend some time with the soldiers.