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Lee Benson, Deseret News
Linda and Steven Larsen run their charity, Operation Adopt a Ghost, out of their home in Ogden.

OGDEN — Ten years ago, as the conflict in Iraq was raging, Linda and Steven Larsen’s son Christian, a recently deployed medic in the Utah National Guard serving in the Ghostriders task force, sent a mayday message of sorts from Kuwait.

In essence, Chris wrote to his mom: “Thanks for the cookies and socks and stuff. But I noticed there are four guys in my unit who aren’t getting anything at all from home and I’m worried about them.”

So Linda boxed up four packages of goodies and sent those off, too.

Lee Benson, Deseret News
Stacie Andersen, left, and Linda and Steven Larsen assemble gift baskets for military moms, wives and soldiers.

From that inconspicuous beginning, Operation Adopt a Ghost was born: A charity as grass roots as they come, operating out of the Larsen’s frame house on 7th Street in Ogden, dedicated to just one cause: letting soldiers know they matter and they’re not alone.

It wasn’t long before all 189 members of the Ghostriders unit were getting packages. And not much longer after that, additional units were added. All sorts of soldiers were getting love from that little house on 7th Street.

Then, in the summer of 2013, five years and thousands of Adopt a Ghost packages later, an awful thing happened.

Chris Larsen, who everyone called Fox, ended his life – a victim, like so many others who see far too much on deployment, of post-traumatic stress disorder.

No one expected Adopt a Ghost to keep going after that.

No one except Linda and Steven Larsen.

After having to bury their son before he reached his 30th birthday, they emerged more determined than ever to give soldiers friendship and support.

At Fox’s funeral they’d been bowled over by the number of people who reached out to tell them of ways their son had helped them – from soldiers he’d served with on his many deployments to the Middle East (some of which the Larsens didn’t know about because of military regulations; they had no idea he’d ever gone to Afghanistan) to those he’d touched as a trauma nurse stateside.

In their front window, they hung the gold star given to families who have lost loved ones in the military and dove right back in.

There was no way they were going to drop the ball Chris got started.

From the beginning, their charity, as charities do, had taken on a life of its own. Things happen you can’t explain. Volunteers show up unbidden. Goods for the packages appear from here, there and everywhere. Checks arrive in the mail.

But now, it seemed ratcheted up.

From sending those four packages to Kuwait in 2008, Operation Adopt a Ghost has evolved into an organization that regularly sends packages to a roster of, on average, 1,200 soldiers, in addition to sponsoring a Soldier Santa event every Christmas, a summer beach party for military personnel and their families and, as of last year, a Mother’s Day event that sends gift baskets to military wives and female soldiers.

The Mother’s Day program is the brainchild of Stacie Andersen, a woman whose story of getting involved with Adopt a Ghost is typical of so many others who volunteer.

She’d heard about Fox Larsen’s legacy of compassion from Steven Larsen one day at her work. After that, she couldn’t stop thinking about it.

“His story touched me,” she says, “I thought, ‘Man! I gotta do something.’”

When Stacie showed up at the house and asked what she could do, Linda gave her standard reply: “Whatever you want.”

“I always tell people to follow your heart,” explains Linda. “You’ll be more motivated if it’s your idea.”

“It was the worst answer she could give me,” says Stacie, laughing. “I like to be told what to do.”

But left to her own devices, the Mother’s Day event came to be. Last year they sent out half-a-dozen baskets. This year they’ll do at least 30.

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Through it all, Operation Adopt a Ghost remains essentially unchanged from the day it started. No one gets paid, and never will be, volunteers that stretch from Wyoming to Moab come and go as they please, everyone at the post office in North Ogden knows Linda by name, and it all runs out of the frame house on 7th Street.

And then there’s Fox, who the Larsens are convinced still directs the show.

“It’s like paying homage to him,” says Steven. “We were put here on this Earth to take care of each other; it’s just something you do. That’s what he showed us.”

“Every day we feel he’s around,” says Linda. “He did so much for others and we have to keep doing for him. If he hadn’t cared about those four guys, none of this would have ever happened.”