Willie Smith, a native of Brandon, is grateful for her family members who have served in the United States Armed Forces, including those currently in active duty and retired. Knowing that a soldier’s service often keeps him or her away from loved ones during the holidays, Smith began wondering how she could lift the spirits of deployed soldiers who are away from home during Christmastime. “I started thinking about what I could do to help,” she says. Then, an idea came to her and she began purchasing Christmas card sets on sale after the holidays and collecting extra, unused cards with envelopes from family and friends. This was the beginning of her “Christmas Cards for Deployed Soldiers” mission project. In those cards, Smith wrote notes of encouragement and mailed more than 200 hand-written, personalized Christmas cards to troops that year—which was 2004. Since then, her mission has certainly grown, with more than 2,000 cards delivered in 2017 alone. While she never solicits help, her church group, friends and family, and others who have asked to help volunteer by writing messages in the cards, donating cards, and supporting the postage fees. “This ministry is from my heart,” she notes. “I never ask for money for this project.” In addition, Smith also hand-delivers Christmas cards to veteran nursing homes, from the Jackson area up to Kosciusko. Especially precious to Smith are the reply letters and phone calls she receives from soldiers and veterans who want to share with her the special impact her mission has made in their lives. “This is just one of my ministries,” adds Smith. “I also crochet blankets for new dialysis patients, among other opportunities to help people.” —S.M.B.