CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Araya Ayala was a star softball player at Flour Bluff High School.
In the last match three years ago, she achieved two home runs. Solids.
Not long after that, she exchanged her softball uniform for a military uniform.
Araya currently serves with the Army’s elite 82nd Airborne Division in Poland in support of Ukraine. It was deployed shortly after the Russian invasion on 24 February.
Returning home, her grandmother, Viola Ayala, expressed her understandable anxiety about Araya’s mission.
“I don’t want her deployed,” she said.
But Ayala accepted it, and now beamed with pride for her brave niece.
“I’m so proud of her,” she said, “So proud. I love her and I miss her”.
Ayala, who hasn’t seen Araya since last summer, said she believes her niece feels comfortable knowing her grandmother is thinking about her; and pray for her.
“Of course, she is praying for me every second of the day,” Ayala said.
Comfort is also being sent to Ukrainian refugees and American troops like Araya in the form of care packages.
Local veterans and community members are packing everything from toothbrushes to beef jerky – anything to boost military morale abroad.
“I have friends operating overseas who have received the boxes and it’s their day,” says volunteer Sydnee Cissna of Devoted Healthcare and Hospice Services.
“They (the military) have left their families (at home),” said volunteer April Magnuson, President of Caldwell Banker Pacesetter Steel Realtors. Here’s how we can contribute.
“We must continue to help them as much as we can. That’s all we can do,” said Vietnam War veteran Tomas Rendon as he filled boxes with necessary supplies.
Most importantly, the effort to pack and ship these care packages is to show local love in action.
“They were our warriors there. And it’s to let them know that we’re thinking about them and that we care,” said Gregory Kindle, President of Coastal Bend Military Support.
The Kindle Foundation assembled this care pack assembly line to ship many of the boxes overseas.
Veteran JJ De La Cerda, who served twice during the war in Iraq, understands the thoughtfulness that goes into each care package.
“They (veterans and volunteers) are here for their kindness, for what they can do and to pack for people they don’t know,” he said.
Nueces County Veterans Services staff also know firsthand what it feels like to have a family member deployed. His grandson, JC Moreno, was also in the army serving overseas in support of Ukraine.
“Getting that care package from someone you don’t know means the whole world, especially when there’s not much out there,” says De La Cerda.
Family members back home also take comfort in knowing that complete strangers are rolling up their sleeves to send their homeland to the loved ones they are currently serving.
“Grateful – so grateful for what they are doing,” Ayala said, “I can see the smile on her (Araya) face. She’ll have a big smile on her face.”
To donate to the care pack effort, here is information about Coastal Bend Troop Support:
609 8th Avenue Portland Tx. 78374
PO Box 742 Rockport, Tx. 78381
info @ Coastbendtroopsupport, com