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Playing Santa for the Soldiers

In the dining room of her South Riding home, Mary Hacker sat and carefully wrapped a holiday package that would find its way to the dry sand of Mosul, Iraq. With a table full of appropriate goodies for soldiers at war during the holidays, Hacker hopes that these items will remind them of home.

Surrounded by small bags of coffee, John Grisham books and DVDs of the television show "Dragnet," Hacker is exercising her generosity during the holiday season.

"At this point in my life that my kids have grown up ... instead of focusing my energy on them and work, I can support causes and make a difference," said Hacker. "This is not a religious or local cause. They are defending you. They are people putting their lives on the line."

HACKER BEGAN shipping care packages to a friend in Mosul after she learned he was stationed there. As their correspondence grew, Hacker began shipping extra items for the men in her friend's squadron.

"I bought a lot of stuff." said Hacker. "I want to buy them everything they want."

For the upcoming holidays, Hacker is collecting donations to be sent to soldiers in Mosul, as well as wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C.

According to the Department of Defense, all packages should be shipped by Dec. 5 if expected to arrive in Iraq by the holidays. Hacker plans on shipping by the deadline, but says she will continue to collect donations for soldiers at Walter Reed until Dec. 23.

The items that Hacker is collecting for soldiers in Mosul and Walter Reed differ slightly.

"The main differences are that I'll accept used magazines and books for Walter Reed, but that's too heavy to send to Iraq," said Hacker. "I honestly can't afford to send them there."

WHILE HACKER is still hoping for donations, she has struggled to get people motivated to donate, having to rely on creative persuasion.

"I made it a requirement for everyone coming to Thanksgiving dinner to bring a donation," she said.

Hacker wants to remind everyone that anything people can spare will be appreciated by the soldiers in Iraq, as long as it is received before this Friday.

"My 80-year-old in-laws went out to the woods and brought back pine cones," she said. "They wanted to include the pine cones so the packages would smell like the holidays."

Hacker has also recently volunteered for "Sew Much Comfort" a sewing program that alters clothes for the wounded at Walter Reed Hospital. She is currently awaiting her first project from the volunteer group.

"I've done different fund-raisers before but nothing for the military, except on a personal basis," said Hacker.