WHITING, Ind. (WLS) -- The Elks Lodge in Whiting, Indiana, hosted their annual Christmas meal for future Navy sailors spending the holiday away from home.
The small group of naval recruits from the Great Lakes Naval Station, like 22-year-old seaman recruit D'Andre Stephen, are spending Christmas away from their families for the first time.
"It's bittersweet feeling, honestly. I wasn't expecting all of this," Stephen said.
About 50 sailors in training arrived at Elks Lodge 1273 Tuesday morning to the sounds of sirens and applause, as honored guests.
Event chairperson Helen Chapman said it's a way to give recruits a home away from home on Christmas.
"They're going to eat all day. We have cookies, cakes and coffee. Anything they need, we've got," she said.
For a tenth year the Northwest Indiana group has sponsored the all-day event.
"I think it's really cool. I feel like I have so much in common with them. It really takes me back," said Stacey Ojeda, Navy veteran.
The effort to create a family atmosphere for the recruits, many of whom are finishing up the Navy's bootcamp in weeks, was helped by a $500 donation by the Military Order of the Purple Heart 721.
Songs of celebration were sung as a variety of snacks and traditional holiday fare was served. And beyond the good food and camaraderie, recruits were able to make that rare phone call home to talk to family and friends.
Seaman recruit Keiry Barrerio, 18, called her mom in North Carolina.
"My mom really wasn't expecting it, so it was like a Christmas present to me," she said.
And for recruit Tyrese Wilson who is far away from his hometown of Miami, the outpouring of appreciation is what made this holiday special.
"It's tough but I understand what I signed up for," he said.