SAN ANTONIO - It wasn't the holiday surprise Sgt. Jace Brueland said he was looking for on Christmas Eve when he found his home in Oklahoma had been ransacked.
Brueland had just returned from a trip to Colorado and was expecting the arrival of his 2 1/2-year-old son, Liam, within the hour. The Christmas he had planned — their first together after missing the last because of deployments — was in shambles as the thieves had made off with everything, including his son's gifts.
"I made sure that the Christmas tree was set up, all the lights were set up — everything was perfect," he said. "As soon as I came home, I realized everything was gone, and it was all ruined again."
After Brueland called to tell her what had happened, his stepmom, Leslie Gartin, sprang into action ahead of Brueland and Liam visiting Christmas Day.
Gartin posted on a Facebook garage sale group on Christmas Eve, asking if anyone had extra toys and offering to reimburse them retail price for new toys and a fair price for used ones.
Almost immediately, she said, the responses flooded in.
"People were, you know, 'What can we give you? What can we do for you? How can we make this better?'" Gartin said.
By the time Brueland and his son arrived Christmas night, dozens of gifts were spread out by the tree for little Liam. Most of them were from people Gartin had never met.
"Not one person would let me pay for anything," she said.
As Liam and his father played with the numerous gifts, another visitor came to Gartin's door, a disabled veteran, Jerry Lazaroff. He brought an envelope of cash he said he had set aside for charity.
"It's about taking care of family and our military," Lazaroff said.
A Christmas that started off bleak become extraordinary.
"I mean, I don't even think I could amount to how grateful I am for everything that everyone has donated," Brueland said, noting that friends in Oklahoma had helped him as well. "It's pretty crazy."
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