NEW GLOUCESTER – Christmas hasn’t been far from the mind of Sarah Sparks these past three years.

The 26-year-old 4-H leader and veterinary technician became inspired to do more than just celebrate the holiday season in the usual way with family and friends. She collects gifts for military personnel serving overseas and is accepting donations.

Sparks’ inspiration came from her sister, Senior Airman Hannah Clark, 24, who served a tour with the U.S. Air Force in Iraq. Clark recently returned to Maine for a two-week break before she returns to Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., where she is trained as a readiness apprentice to clean up emergencies and disasters.

Sparks said she was told by her sister three years ago that many soldiers received little from home during the holidays. So Sparks came up with the idea that she could make a difference with holiday gift bags and stockings filled with items to support the soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Word of mouth from friends and her sister gave her names of soldiers to begin.

“Because Hannah was deployed in Iraq, she would miss Christmas. There were times Hannah was very embarrassed with our gifts because so many people don’t get anything, not a letter or an e-mail,” said Sparks, who was asked if she could write a letter to a person her sister knew.

Sparks’ aunt Sue Dexter of Raymond helps, too. She says it’s difficult to get names of soldiers because of confidentiality so names have been provided by friends with loved ones serving. The gifts are sent to one name and distributed to many men and women.

“We are seeking any donations – for example, socks, personal care items, drink mixes, cards and games,” Dexter said.

Money is also accepted to help defray mailing costs, which came to more than $600 last year. Sparks plans to collect about 400 gift bags and stockings this year.

The packing will move from Sparks’ trailer on Range Road to the AMVETs Post 6 Hall on Route 100 on Saturday, Nov. 24. Sparks is seeking donations of empty computer paper boxes and personal care items. She may be reached at 926-3077.

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