While it will never be the same as being home, 10-year-old Brett McMahon is trying to make Christmas for the troops seem a little more familiar.

McMahon, for the past four years, has been collecting items to send to the troops through Operation Santa.

“When I was in first-grade, I was at school and they sent home a newsletter,” McMahon said. “I didn’t know what it was about but I showed my aunt (Debbie Lampert) and she told me what it was about.”

Since he began collecting, McMahon has doubled his donations every year and, for 2012, collected more than 60,000 items.

“They come from local businesses, local neighborhoods,” McMahon said of the donations. “They come from a lot of hotels. They come from everywhere we go. We just go around everywhere and ask if they can donate anything.”

McMahon and Lampert drive to local businesses around Halloween time asking for donations as well as asking for donations from McMahon’s fifth-grade classmates at Robein until the beginning of November.

“My class helped me a lot with getting a lot of items,” McMahon said. “I think a couple of kids have brought in over 300 items. That helped us a lot.

“We did a coloring contest and hung them up at Subway and every penny was a vote and all of the money we collected went to Operation Santa.”

After collecting the items, McMahon and Lampert take the items to Operation Santa in Bloomington and they are packed into stockings with each stocking containing 12 items.

“The true goal would be that we wouldn’t need to do it anymore,” Lampert said. “The goal would be that there aren’t any soldiers overseas and away from their family.”

During his first year, McMahon collected more than 7,000 items. For 2012, he collected more than 26,000 items but has already set his sights for 2013 at collecting more than 26,000 items.

While waiting to donate the items, McMahon and Lampert keep the items on the stairway as a measuring stick of how many items they have.

“At the very end, when we are getting ready to take the items to Bloomington … the steps are really full,” Lampert said. “We eventually have to keep it on the floor because the steps are so full.”

On Veterans Day this year, McMahon rode in the Veterans Day Parade in Peoria and was able to talk to people who received stockings from him.

“It was really cool,” McMahon said. “It was cool that I did that and actually got to meet the people who got stockings.”

McMahon’s drive to help those fighting overseas is something Lampert said inspires her.

“I’m very proud, especially when I go in with him and see him go up to those counters and ask for donations,” Lampert said. “I think one day he’d make a pretty good Santa Claus going in and seeing sick kids. I could see him doing that.”

For donation information, contact Lampert and McMahon at troops4xmas@gmail.com. Donations are accepted year round.