WILLMAR - Christmas for the Berger family of Atwater got a little bit brighter, thanks to the amazing generosity of family, friends and many others from the Kandiyohi County community.

"It is overwhelming, it is humbling," said Trevor Berger, a Navy veteran and the Atwater police chief.

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Berger and his wife, Kate, along with their youngest son Ryan, arrived at the Willmar VFW Wednesday morning to receive tables full of gifts for Ryan and his two older siblings Kendall and Micah. The family was also gifted nearly $3,000 in money and gift cards to help the family through an unexpected and unplanned for difficult period.

"We are very grateful people are willing to do this for us," Berger said.

Unexpected turn of events

Life was going pretty well for Berger and his family. That was until last month, when Berger was diagnosed with stage 3B esophageal cancer. His treatment plan includes radiation and chemotherapy treatments at the Willmar Regional Cancer Center, as well as surgery at the Mayo Clinic early next year.

"Everything was going fine, then all of sudden you have cancer," Berger said.

With the sudden appearance of expensive medical treatment and long car trips to and from Mayo, Berger approached the Kandiyohi County Veteran Service Office in Willmar to see if there was any help available. The assistance the family got was more than they ever imagined.

"This happened. We are really grateful for the support from everyone," Berger said.

Holiday tradition

Every year for several years now, the Willmar VFW has partnered with the county veterans office to help a veteran's family in need. County Veteran Service Officer Trisha Appeldorn said she contacted the VFW after Berger had visited with her.

"They said they wanted them to be their family," Appeldorn said.

In just two weeks the VFW was able to get all the presents for the family. Many were purchased by patrons of the VFW, while others came from people who heard about the Berger family through social media. The VFW also matched the money raised up to $1,000.

"The VFW is so kind to help us with this," Appeldorn said. "Anyway we can help someone. This is something we want to do."

Berger, who served four years in the United States Navy, stationed aboard the USS Nassau, said his doctors are optimistic about being able to treat his cancer.

"They are pretty positive they'll be able to get it," Berger said.

Also helping keep Berger and his family's spirits up this holiday season is all the support they've been given in the past weeks.

"It has been a lot of support. It is definitely keeping me positive," Berger said.