Twelve years into its run and 11 into honoring the legacy of its namesake, this year's Travis Bachman Memorial Christmas Stocking Drive collected stockings stuffed with snacks, games and more on par with recent years, bringing in a total of 545.

The number is short of organizers’ Robin Witzke and Amber Howard Bachman Wilson’s nearly 800-stocking goal, but Witzke said they are still happy with the result. Last year, the drive brought in about 600 stockings.

“We just always want to honor Travis Bachman’s memory and his love for his country and his servicemembers … Even one stocking sent to a deployed soldier would represent that,” Witzke said.

Individuals and groups alike offered their support for this year's campaign, Witzke said, dropping stockings off Tuesday night at the American Legion, a building renamed after Bachman in 2014.

Witzke and Wilson originally began the drive in 2006, wanting to support their husbands serving in Iraq and the men and women serving alongside them. In 2007, Wilson’s husband, Bachman, a first-class sergeant and member of the Army National Guard, was killed in action when an explosive device went off near his vehicle during his second deployment to Iraq. He died Aug. 1, 2007.

From 2007 onward, the stocking drive has been dedicated to Bachman. The stockings are always sent to deployed soldiers in the Kansas Army National Guard, or at least soldiers from Kansas, this year traveling to the former in Afghanistan, Witzke said.

Schools, churches, Boy Scouts and more deliver stockings in bulk, Witzke said. A quilting group brings in several stockings a year, all handmade. Wilson said many donors are supporting friends and family overseas either directly or in spirit.

For the past six years, the duo has collaborated from afar, Witzke working on-site in Garden City and Wilson, now remarried and living in Tulsa, Okla., offering support remotely by gathering donations, preparing fliers, recruiting volunteers and spreading the word on social media.

Wilson said she sometimes feels like she’s not helping enough, but Witzke insisted she was.

Supporting the troops is important, as well as continuing to honor her late husband, Wilson said. Over a decade later, she remains proud of the sacrifice he made, but it is still bittersweet. She isn't sure how to put the feeling into words.

“I think it’s important to still have some involvement, to help out. It’s just continuing the tradition of that legacy. Keeping it in Travis’ honor is important,” Wilson said.

The stockings carry anything from flavor drink packets and small packs of snacks to DVDs, CDs, games, magazines and puzzles to toiletries, wet wipes and lip balm, among other items. Plus, every stocking includes a signed Christmas card addressed to a soldier. It’s a personal touch, Witzke said, and the soldiers always enjoy them.

Witzke and Wilson often get a handful of pictures and thank you notes from soldiers each year in response to the drive. They plan to continue forward as they have for years, Witzke said.

“We’ll continue doing this for as long as we need to,” Wilson said.


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