Some in McKinney were already sending out Christmas gifts this week – about $1,500 worth of gifts. And shipping wasn’t cheap – around $1,600 on top – because it’ll take about four weeks.

These gifts were going to U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. They’re spending Christmas hunkered to a mountainside.

“They’re very disconnected from everything over there,” said Kristine Gamero, whose husband Chuck Gamero, of the Army National Guard, is one of the 45 soldiers who’ll receive the gifts. “They feel like sometimes we forget about them.”

The Gameros live down the street from St. Gabriel’s Catholic Church in McKinney, where they’re members. The church is where the early gift-givers met Thursday night.

A couple dozen congregation members, kids and adults, joined employees from Thrivent Financial to assemble and load 90 gift boxes.

Kristine’s friend, Nicole Peters, is how the financial services organization came into the picture. Their young daughters dance together, so they talk – Peters knew Chuck left in June for a 9-month deployment and certainly wouldn’t be home by Christmas morning.

“What better way to help the soldiers? And these are actually soldiers we know,” Peters said. “A lot of times, you never know who you’re donating to. This connects them directly with our organization.”

Thrivent Financial, which has an office in Allen, puts money back into the community through such donations for veterans, the homeless, children’s hospitals and other groups in need.

Nationwide last year, the organization donated over $235 million to charitable causes, according to Peters’ supervisor, Sean Scruggs, who with several coworkers helped assemble and load the boxes.

They stuffed them with Christmas decorations, food, puzzle books and gag gifts.

“They love anything in a box,” Gamero said, mentioning mac-n-cheese as a soldier favorite.

Each soldier will get two boxes, one with decorations and practical items like food, the other with things to make them laugh.

The goal? Bring some Christmas cheer, if even the slightest reminder of their loved ones halfway across the world.

“They’re over there putting their lives on the line every single day,” Scruggs said. “And their families are here just waiting for them to come home. I think we forget how hard that is.”