CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Araya Ayala was once a star softball player at Flour Bluff High School.
In her last at-bat three years ago, she hit two home runs. Solid.
Not long after that, she traded her softball uniform for a military uniform.
Araya now serves with the Army's elite 82nd Airborne Division in Poland in support of Ukraine. She was deployed right after that country's Russian invasion on Feb. 24.
Back at home, her grandmother, Viola Ayala, voiced her understandable concern about Araya’s mission.
“I didn’t want her to get deployed," she said.
But Ayala accepted it, and now beams with pride for her brave granddaughter.
“I’m very proud of her," she said. "Very proud. I love her and I miss her.”
Ayala, who hasn't seen Araya since last summer, said she believes her granddaughter takes comfort in knowing her grandmother is thinking about her; and praying for her.
“Of course, she’s in my prayers every single second of the day,” Ayala said.
Comfort is also being sent to Ukrainian refugees and American troops such as Araya in the form of care packages.
Local veterans and community members are packing everything from toothbrushes to beef jerky — anything to boost troops' morale overseas.
“I have friends who are active overseas who have received boxes, and it makes their day,” said volunteer Sydnee Cissna with Devoted Healthcare and Hospice Services.
"They (the troops) have left their families (at home). This is in way we can contribute,” said volunteer April Magnuson, President of Caldwell Banker Pacesetter Steel Realtors.
“We gotta keep on helping them out as much as we can. That’s all we can do,” said Vietnam War veteran Tomas Rendon, as he was filling boxes with essential items.
Most importantly, this effort to pack and send these care packages is a display of local love in action.
“They’re our warriors over there. And it’s to let them know that we’re thinking about them and we care,” said Gregory Kindle, President of Coastal Bend Troop Support.
Kindle’s organization put together this care-package assembly line to send numerous boxes overseas.
Combat veteran JJ De La Cerda, who served two tours of duty in the war in Iraq, understands the thoughtfulness that goes into every care package.
“They’re (veterans and volunteers) here out of the goodness of their hearts, giving what they can and packaging for people they don’t know,” he said.
The Nueces County Veterans Service Officer also knows firsthand what it’s like to have a family member deployed. His nephew, JC Moreno, is also among the contingent of troops serving overseas in support of Ukraine.
“Getting that care package from someone you don’t know means the world, especially when there’s not much out there,” said De La Cerda.
Family members back at home also take comfort in knowing that complete strangers are rolling up their sleeves to send a piece of home to their loved ones who are currently serving.
“Grateful — very thankful for what they’re doing," Ayala said. “I could see the smile in her (Araya’s) face. She’s gonna have a big smile.”
To donate to the care package effort, here’s the information for Coastal Bend Troop Support:
609 8th Ave. Portland Tx. 78374
PO Box 742 Rockport, Tx. 78381
Contact Veterans In Focus reporters: Greg Chandler at firstname.lastname@example.org and Pat Simon at email@example.com