ATCO, NJ (WTXF) - A special holiday surprise is in store for one local family, now that a soldier is coming home for the holidays.
It was a long and a hard struggle to get him home, but a secret Santa came in and changed everything.
FOX 29's Dave Kinchen was there the moment a dream came true.
It was an emotional phone call for Lori Freni of South Jersey.
Her son Austin of the US Army Infantry just called to say he'll be home for the holidays after all!
"I'm really really excited! I'm never speechless!" Lori said.
The trip home was uncertain.
Austin is stationed at Fort Benning in Georgia, preparing for a Middle East deployment. He already missed Thanksgiving, with hard times hitting the family.
"They lost their Dad to brain cancer to years ago. It's been kind of rough since daddy died and Austin just from day one stepped right in and he's helped. I lost my job due to disability, my health issues a couple weeks ago and for the last two months he just been sending every single paycheck that he's made straight to his siblings and he's gotten us by," Lori explained.
Lori was ready to sell her things to bring Austin home, but instead made a GoFundMe page to help raise airfare. Her friend Rachel donated what she could.
Jennifer Richardson saw the Post and bought the plane ticket, having never met the family she was helping, until Wednesday.
"My brother was in the Marines, and I watched my mother during the holidays not know if he was coming home so, this is personal to me," Jennifer said.
Even Austin was emotional on the phone. Thinking about all his mom has done for her 5 kids.
"It's nice to know that someone is actually giving back to her and someone understands her story and letting us be together on Christmas."
"Just thank you so much. It means everything. It means so much," Lori said.