Manager and employees from a Savannah Walgreens store were all smiles when Evan Place, a First Presbyterian Day School student from Macon, Ga., delivered 50 gift bags to the store's distribution pickup point for the Operations Welcome Home program, Oct. 22.

Place started his community service with the military three years ago, inspired by an e-mail and article by Carol Megathlin, a local Adopt-a-Soldier coordinator and a Savannah Morning News writer. The community service project turned into a passion for the 17-year-old Place, who has recruited about 30 sponsors for this program so far. "I wanted to help," he said. "These Soldiers fight for us, and I just wanted to show some appreciation."

Evan's mother, Lisa Place, stood proudly beside her son as he delivered the gift bags. "He has a big heart and is always willing to help others," she said. "I am just tickled that he wanted to help the military. "These Soldiers sacrifice so much for us."

The gift bags will be delivered to single Soldiers at Hunter Army Airfield by the Hunter BOSS [Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers] coordinator, Staff Sgt. Krishna Gillis. "That is why I got involved in this program," said Staff Sgt. Gillis. "We want our single Soldiers to know they are not forgotten. It saddens me when they don't have Families to greet them when they return home after a long deployment."

Staff Sergeant Gillis said the goal of Operation Welcome Home is to give a bag to every single Soldier. So far, the Operation Welcome Home program has given out 1,000 bags.

Evan's mother, a teacher, enlisted her school to help fill the bags with items Soldiers need when they return home. Since regulations do not allow certain items on their return flight home, Soldiers can have those items, including snacks, toiletries and other comforts of home, waiting in their rooms.

Single Soldiers particularly appreciate the gift bags, according to Staff Sgt. Gillis. She said it shows them that civilians, such as Evan Place, appreciate their service and are willing to go out of their way to give something back.

Staff Sergeant Gillis credits the program's success to Carol Megathlin. She said Megathlin has done a great job setting up the drop-off sites at Walgreens stores around the Savannah areas. "Carol has reached out to Walgreens to make this possible," she added. "Both she and Evan have a special place in my heart because they care about Soldiers."