WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - 27 families gathered at Hoggard High school this morning and waited to find out what Marines they would be hosting for Thanksgiving.
A busload of marines from Camp Lejeune showed up, fresh out of boot camp, to find out what family they’d be spending the holiday with.
“I will call off your name, step forward, introduce you and off you go," said Steve Schnitzler, CEO of Port City Java. The coffee shop is the group that pairs the family and Marine.
It’s a new experience for the soldiers, dressed in street clothes with phones in hand.
“Never thought anything would happen like this," said Christian Fields. "I just thought we would get liberty on base… maybe.”
Mike and Deborah Conard are a couple that have hosted Marines since the project first started, nine years ago. They played host to Christian and Eric Colna for the day.
“It’s nice to give them a break from what they’re used to the last several months," said Mike. "They get a little bit of taste of home life, even though they can’t be with their families, they have somewhere that they can be that they feel like they’re part of a family.”
The first order of business, spending some time on the water in the Cape Fear river, Atlantic Ocean and the inter-coastal waterway.
“Amazing, really great," said Colna. "Probably one of the best Thanksgiving’s I’ve had in years.”
Capped off of course, by the most important meal of the day.
“We’ve got two Turkey’s,” said Deborah Conard. “Mac and cheese, baked carrots, baked apples and stuffing.”
Colna is spending the holiday without his six-year-old son for the first time. Fields, just recently engaged, spent the holiday without his fiancé.
But, the Conard’s opening their doors to strangers, gives the Marines a new perspective on being thankful.
“Just to understand that you don’t have to stay in one place to feel at home," said Fields. "Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks and I guess today showed me that I have more than I thought I had.”
It might be another 365 days away, but over 80 families are chosen to host Marines that are get picked up at Hoggard, New Hanover and Laney high schools.
If you’re in the spirit, you can reach out to Port City Java CEO Steve Schnitzler at firstname.lastname@example.org.