Army veteran Joseph Rodeghero of Morris and his family have had a tough year due to a spinal injury he sustained while in the service.
Although he received corrective surgery this year and has recovered well, he could not work for several months, leaving the family to live on a very tight budget that did not allow for spending on Christmas gifts.
“After months of no income to support our family, I am happy to be able to work again, but sad at the thought of being unable to give them the Christmas they deserve and my son an eighth birthday to remember,” Rodeghero wrote in his application for Operation St. Nick’s 12 Days of Christmas Giving program.
“I want to be able to give them a magical Christmas, and watch the joy on their faces when they open their presents. I would love for my son to have a birthday that he deserves, a moment of pure happiness after being so strong while helping me after my surgery,” he continued.
Rodeghero was granted his wish, as were nine other military families in need this holiday, through the “12 Days of Christmas Giving — dreams come true for local military families” program. This is the second year for the program created by Operation St. Nick and the Morris Daily Herald.
To be eligible to have a wish of up to $2,000 granted, the family had to be a military family and residents of Grundy County. A family member must have been currently serving in the military or have been honorably discharged, said Joe Schmitz, president of Operation St. Nick.
“I want to make sure they have a Christmas and keep their Christmas spirit,” said Rodeghero. “(St. Nick) has definitely made sure it will be a real nice Christmas for both my boys and my wife. I called (Schmitz) after I shopped and told him it was too much. He’s an outstanding guy.”
Operation St. Nick provided Rodeghero money to purchase toys, clothes and comforter sets for his family.
But, more importantly, they will allow Rodeghero to see joy on his family’s faces Christmas morning.
“It’s a huge blessing,” he said.
This is the second year for the 12 Days of Christmas Giving program, said Schmitz. Last year, Operation St. Nick helped 10 military families, and this year they have already helped 10 more. They may be adding two more families as well after the holiday.
“There has been nothing, for me personally, more gratifying as helping these servicemen who are in financial trouble right now. They served our country anywhere from two to 10 years; it’s the least we can do for them,” said Schmitz.
The idea for the program came from the St. Nick board a couple of years ago. The organization had $12,000 to $15,000 extra in its budget after its back-to-school, bicycle, White Sox trip and Christmas programs. One of the board members suggested doing something for military families and the idea grew from there.
For Jerome of Morris, Operation St. Nick not only gave him the ability to give his wife and son a real Christmas, but they also paid off some of his bills, and bought an appropriately sized bed for his toddler son, who had grown out of his crib.
The family had acquired numerous medical bills to help with their 2-year-old’s autism and the piled-up expenses were just not going to make it possible for Jerome to give his wife and child the “Christmas they deserve.”
“I should be able to provide my wife and son the basic necessities and still be able to give them the stuff they want,” said Jerome. “Not the fine things in life, but if my son needs a pair of shoes, I should be able to give him shoes.”
The Air Force veteran said he is tired of having to choose between buying milk for his son or putting gas in his car to get to work to keep a roof over their heads.
“I am truly appreciative to Joe and the 12 Days of Christmas Giving and what they did for us,” said Jerome. “I think any parent would feel appreciative and love for what Joe shared.”
Schmitz even provided them with a Christmas tree. They had not purchased one because the $20 for a tree could be better spent, said Jerome.
“We’ll be forever grateful,” he said.