Several local community members, volunteers and their families gathered at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, Jan. 6, by invitation of the leaders of the 25th Infantry Division to show appreciation for their recent participation and devotion of time, funds, and gifts which helped to make "Operation Christmas Aloha" a success.

Several of the volunteers received awards of appreciation from Maj. Gen. Robert L. Caslen, Jr., commanding general, 25th Inf. Div. at the division's headquarters.

Operation Christmas Aloha is an annual charity event which offers members of the Oahu Ohana the opportunity to send a gift to a military servicemember during the holiday season.

"If we can give something back to the people who give so much for us-even if it is something small-we get a lot of joy doing that," said Bryan J. Okuno, a Operation Christmas Aloha volunteer and award recipient.

Mirroring this sentiment was Pastor Elwin P. Ahu, a volunteer and award recipient, who believes their contribution was minimal compared to those of their active duty military Ohana.

"Knowing their service and sacrifices, what we do is small compared to that," said Ahu.
The charity began nearly five years ago and still continues to provide appreciation and support to military servicemembers in the form of care packages and small gifts.

This year's effort by these volunteers resulted in approximately 2,500 gift packages being distributed to thankful Hawaiian military recipients.

According to Ahu, Operation Christmas Aloha has opened the door for people of the Hawaiian Ohana to take the opportunity to donate books, clothing, or snacks to be sent to active duty military personnel over the holiday season.

One of the more personal items sent among these gifts are hand-written letters from volunteers to a servicemember. According to Ahu, these letters help to create a personal connection between two neighbors.

"Some individuals decided to choose a Soldier to write to and keep that person in their thoughts and prayers," said Ahu.

It's this neighborly connection which may inspire Hawaiian community members to play an active part in the goal of the charity, working together through various roles to ensure their holiday mission was accomplished with the gifts assembled by donations from the local community.

"We take part by contributing and donating to put together these care packages which number over 4,200 over the past two years," said Ahu.

Every year the volunteers gather at various places throughout the community to assemble these holiday gifts. Then the boxes are stored locally before shipment overseas.

"The gifts are packaged in boxes and the boxes are stored in our facility," said Okuno. "Then the boxes are shipped from our facility."

According to Okuno, a manager with the storage facility, his business offers their storage to the charity free of charge.

"We believe in giving back to the community," said Bryan J. Okuno, a local business manager and recipient of one of the awards of appreciation. "The Soldiers support our community and our business so it is the least we can do."

Many of the group's gift recipients are either deployed, returning to Hawaii from a deployment, or someone who may not have received a gift otherwise.

"When one of our Soldiers receives a gift like these - unsolicited -- from their hometown or neighborhood, they just have a tremendous feeling of appreciation for knowing their community is behind them and appreciative of what they do," said Caslen. "It makes a world of difference."

Caslen thanked each award recipient and all of Operation Christmas Aloha's numerous volunteers who were not in attendance for their hard work and dedication to their cause, noting how much difference a small gift can do for someone over the holidays.

"This effort really means a lot," said Caslen. "I've been to a lot of posts but the community support and outreach from Hawaii's Ohana is tremendous. Our Soldiers couldn't ask for more."

However, according to Ahu as he accepted his award from Caslen, it was the volunteers of Operation Christmas Aloha who should be presenting the awards to their presenters.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16