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Kids earn money to give gifts to troops

A soldier hangs on to his gift.1 / 2
12-year-old Mariah Fox presents a gift card to a member of Company B on Saturday.2 / 2

A Somerset woman and her sister are teaching their young children lessons on working hard and giving to others.

"We definitely don't have tons of money, but we're really about giving back to our community," said Katie Fox of Somerset.

Fox and her sister Cassandra Casey of Menomonie, both mothers of four, wanted to ensure their children, ranging from age 2 to 12, appreciate what they've got, so they challenged them to raise money for charity by working hard.

"It's just about keeping our kids grounded and letting them know you work for what you get," Fox said.

Starting in 2010, the Fox and Casey kids started offering their services for money to go toward their causes.

The kids handed out fliers to friends, family and neighbors, explaining their purpose and asking to be hired to do a variety of chores, like yard work, cleaning or moving things.

"Instead of personal payment, they ask for donations. They keep doing that throughout the year, hopefully getting hired quite a bit," Fox explained. "At the end of the year, usually on Christmas Eve, they all get together and talk about different causes that they've heard about throughout the year. Then they decide what they want the money to go to."

In 2010 the kids heard about the roof collapse at Gregory's Gift of Hope.

They used the $200 they'd raised to purchase needed toys and supplies for the animal shelter.

Fox said the children really enjoyed shopping for the supplies and delivering the items on New Year's Eve.

"This year they wanted to make $250 and they ended up making $350," Fox said. "We have huge support from our families and neighbors which makes it a lot easier."

With the announcement of the Iraq war ending, the kids chose to use their 2011 funds to give back to soldiers.

Keeping it local, Fox contacted the local Wisconsin National Guard unit (Company B, 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry), in New Richmond.

"Originally, we wanted to hold the event at the airport with people coming home. But people wouldn't want to stop (to receive a small gift), they're going to want to run to their families," Fox said.

The kids decided to greet soldiers returning to the local armory after training and before a Purple Heart ceremony at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 7.

The gift-giving event became far bigger than Fox or Casey had planned.

Both families were invited on stage and asked to speak in front of the packed armory. Since the oldest kid, Austin Casey, 12, was too shy to speak in front of the crowd, Fox spoke on the children's behalf.

While 68 soldiers stood in formation, the Fox and Casey kids handed each person a $5 gift card to Wal-Mart and a signed, laminated bookmark explaining their project, and thanking them for their service.

After the gifts were handed out, the children were invited back on stage, where they were met with applause for about two minutes.

Fox said it was heartwarming to see how much the soldiers appreciated the small gift.

She said the gift cards and bookmarks show that "even the smallest things can have a big impact."

"It turned out to be a pretty amazing day," Fox said about the ceremony and overwhelming thank you.

After the event, the Fox and Casey families went to Lola's Family Restaurant and the owner, Vinnie Mustafoski, gave the kids free ice cream as a way to thank them for the good deed they had done.

Fox said Saturday's event taught the children a valuable lesson, about working hard and karma.

"Do good and good will come," she said.

Fox said her family contributes to other charitable events throughout the year, and she hopes her children continue the tradition of giving for generations to come.

"As a mom it's just awesome to see them be grateful for what we have and be able and willing to give back, even just a little bit," she said. "In this day and age, it's hard to find that with kids. Just to keep them grounded; it's an awesome feeling as a mom."