Back in the 90s, Rian Capaci was serving on the United States Air Force in Saudi Arabia. One day, his flight chief called him over and said there was a letter for him. As a bachelor with no kids, he was perplexed. It was a Christmas card from a stranger.
“It meant so much to me that tears shot sideways out of my eyes,” Capaci, 37, said. “So I made the promise that I would always do this.”
Capaci has made good on his promise since he finished his service in 1999. The operation started out small; Capaci bought a box of Christmas cards, asking anyone from friends to waitresses to take a few minutes to sign a card.
After a decade of following this tradition, he decided to take it a step farther. Instead of one box of cards, he purchased 10. He enlisted the help of his motorcycle club, The Whiskey Boys, and set up a small table in the Metlox Plaza courtyard in Manhattan Beach next to the Shade Hotel. He collected about 300 cards that first year and 600 in the following year.
Now in its third year, Christmas Cards for Soldiers, which occupied the Metlox Plaza courtyard all day Sunday, has grown to new heights. In addition to the Manhattan Beach event, the group is tabling at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in West Los Angeles for the first time next weekend. Capaci expects to exceed 1,000 cards this holiday season.
“More people are showing up, and some of them even recognized us,” said Clint Browning, a Whiskey Boy who has helped out in previous years. “The hotel has been fielding calls about the event, and there have been a lot more donations.”
About 500 Christmas cards have been donated by local businesses, including Vons in El Segundo and Ralphs in Hyde Park. Capaci and the crew purchased another 500, he said.
Donna Laprade, who heard about the event from a friend, said she got in touch with Capaci to offer her services for the day.
“Soldiers are missing their holidays at home, so I figured the least we could do is make them some cards and let them know we appreciate them,” Laprade said.
Laprade, who teaches arts and crafts classes for seniors in their 80s and 90s, said she and her elderly students have made cards for soldiers in the past.
“But the problem was, I didn’t have an address to send them to,” she said. “So last year, we brought them over to the United Service Organization, but I want the cards to go over to where the soldiers are actually fighting.”
The cards collected from the Christmas for Soldiers events will be bundled up and sent to a few of Capaci’s friends who are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.
“Serving abroad during the holidays, it’s lonely but you don’t really realize it until you… it’s lonely,” Capaci said. “But it’s one of those things you’re glad to do. It’s all worth it. And especially when you get a card from someone you don’t know, you really realize it’s worth it.”