'Thank them really a lot'

Kneeling at a small U-shaped table, Christopher de Lis was silent as he clutched an orange Sharpie and carefully wrote "thank you" on the front of a blank card.

Students around him were chatting and working on various projects, but his concentration stayed on the card. The 10-year-old repeated the words over and over, first in red and then in green Sharpie before filling the card with exclamation points and a smiling stick figure on the bottom.

His mother showed up to take him home from YMCA at John R. Peterson Elementary School, but he stayed a little longer to finish his card for troops serving in Afghanistan over the holidays.

"I wanted to thank them really a lot, so I decided to say 'thank you' on the front and 'thank you' on the inside," Christopher said.

For Christopher, the card was important "because they respect our country and they fight every day."

The card will be delivered in time for the holidays along with hundreds of Christmas stockings filled to the brim. Huntington Beach Cub Scout Pack 290 and Peterson's YMCA students came together after school Nov. 18 with a military outreach nonprofit to assemble the stockings.

"We wanted to support our troops and give them a little taste of home," said Cubmaster Trinon Carter.

Lunch tables were covered in heaping piles of goodies. Candy canes formed a small mountain on the middle of one table, surrounded by piles of gum, Starbursts and Mentos; wet wipes, floss and toothbrushes; and another hill of every kind of candy. At the end of the table was a blue card box laid on its side with Cup Noodles overflowing from it.

Cub scouts in their blue uniforms leaned over one side of the table, stuffing handfuls of treats into their red and blue stockings until they bulged with candy and toiletries. The room buzzed as parents milled around calling out instructions to get as much stuff inside the stocking as possible, and students from the Chess Club, which had just ended, circled the tables, eyes alight at the treasure trove of candy.

Dylan Casson, 7, filled his bear stocking and delivered it to the boxes filling up with completed stockings.

The assembly line, which started as a frenzy that was over in a few minutes, was fun, Dylan said.

The stockings will be nice for the soldiers who, Dylan imagined, are lonely and sad fighting overseas. He said he hopes they will cheer up the troops over the holidays.

Dylan's father, Nick Casson, served as a Marine in the Gulf War and, Dylan added proudly, still serves as a fireman. The fact that his father served the country made the event extra-special for the second-grader.

Having served this country, Casson said the stockings will mean tons for the troops stationed in a desert environment under constant treat of assault.

It isn't while they are out serving, but when they get back to the barracks and the adrenaline subsides that the loneliness sets in, he said. That is when getting a stocking filled with wet wipes and playing cards will mean a lot.

"It's a different world when you are there," he said.

Casson, who was with his family at the assembly event, said teaching his son to give back "is the most important thing in our lives."

The Huntington Beach resident said he talks with Dylan about the importance of helping others and the history of this country.

"If everybody just did things for ourselves, what kind of society would we be?" he asked.

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