OGDEN -- Christmas came early for more than 700 servicemen and women.
There was plenty of evidence of this Friday at Myers Mortuary in Ogden as staff and volunteers packed up slightly more than 700 Christmas stockings and prepared them to be shipped. Now the gifts are in the hands of Santa's helpers, who will send them through the mail.
It was the third Stockings for Soldiers collection sponsored by the Myers staff. The mortuary provides stockings and asks area residents to fill them with items such as vitamins, chewing gum, crossword puzzles and lip balm.
The effort last year netted 46 stockings, but community interest exploded this year.
"We were expecting to maybe triple our response," said Shaun Myers, president of Myers Mortuary.
"We didn't dream big enough," said Katie Brockman, Myers community relations director.
"Words cannot describe the willingness and enthusiasm we have received from our community in helping fill these 'Stockings for Soldiers,' " Myers wrote in a letter that was put in each of the boxes.
In his letter, Myers reported hearing people say they had always wanted to help soldiers but haven't known how to do it, and that they did so in family activities.
A dozen volunteers helped Myers employees package the treasures Friday.
"I know what it's like to be away from home for Christmas," said Shane Dunstan, vice president of the West Coast Regional Fleet Reserve Association. "I'm glad I was able to participate in this."
Dunstan brought his two sons, Jeremy, 10, and Lane, 14, who were out of school because of the wind storm.
"I think it's great. The troops need stuff too," said Lane Dunstan. "They deserve it for all the work they do."
"Everyone needs Christmas," said Marshall Banks, manager of Whirly Bird Helicopters, who arrived at the mortuary with two of his employees to help.
"We want to give back to the guys who are giving to us," Banks said.
"What I've noticed is most of these stockings are very full," said Dennis Parizek, quartermaster of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1481. "I know the troops will really appreciate it. I received an email from one of our members overseas. He said this really means a lot."
A large portion of the stockings went to Operation Give, an organization in Salt Lake City that sends gifts to the troops.
But the mortuary mailed several boxes directly to Logar Province, Afghanistan, where Army 1st Sgt. Todd M. Bair, a Bountiful resident, serves.
Bair is deployed with Company B, 1st Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, 172nd Infantry Brigade, Task Force Black Scarves. Bair's parents, who live in Eden, personally filled some of the stockings and provided the mortuary with Bair's address.
Brockman knows the gifts will be appreciated.
Last summer, when the mortuary, its patrons and donating businesses sent 51 packages of water balloons, baby wipes and other items to bring comfort to the troops, Brockman said the response was a gift of an American flag that had flown over Sather Air Base in Baghdad on July 4, 2011.
"For some reason, there is a special place in my heart for the military," said Brockman as she talked about the effort. "Doing this helps me feel worthwhile."
The next effort at Myers Mortuary to honor veterans will take place Dec. 10 with the Wreaths Across America event.
At 10 a.m. Saturday at Evergreen Memorial Park and Ogden City Cemetery, commemorative ceremonies will correspond with similar ceremonies throughout the United States.
Wreaths also will be placed for each branch of the service as well as one for POWs and MIAs.