It was a cold night, but it felt like Christmas morning for military parents lined up outside Fort Belvoir's USO Warehouse last Friday. The parents were waiting to pick up gifts for their children, provided through the USO of Metropolitan Washington's Project USO Elf.
Through Project USO Elf, community members and corporations sponsored children of active-duty, junior-enlisted personnel in the National Capital Region who needed help buying Christmas presents for their children this year.
"Like everyone else in the population, there are times when people just need a little help -- they need a little boost -- and that's what we do," said Michelle Shortencarrier, USO-Metro communications manager. "We provide the American people, and companies, a way to give thanks to our troops and this is a fun way for them to do it."
"The kids write a list to Santa and we give it to that (sponsor) and that person actually gets to go out and shop and buy the gifts for them," she added. "I think that the minimum is $50 and people go way over that."
Inside the warehouse, new bicycles and red gift bags covered the floor, filled with video games and trampolines, dollhouses and buggies. Volunteer "elves" from the USO and the Washington Nationals baseball team scurried back and forth, bringing presents to registered Families and distributing hot cocoa and cookies.
"It was awesome," said Marine Cpl. Kesha Lynn, Weapons Training Battalion, Marine Corps Base Quantico, after picking up her daughter's gifts Friday. "It's always nice to get help when you're a single mom."
Lynn said her 1-year-old was probably going to "freak out" on Christmas morning when she saw her new presents.
"She's probably going to start screaming 'Kitty' because I think there's a Hello Kitty stuffed animal in there," Lynn said.
This year, the USO-Metro's Project USO Elf sponsored a record number of children in the National Capital Region, Shortencarrier said.
"We have over 1,400 kids that members of the community and our sponsors have adopted and are serving as 'elves.' We started out with 1,200 and there was so much overwhelming support that we were able to adopt 200 more," she said.
The gifts were distributed in two locations, Fort Belvoir and Fort Meade, Md.
In addition to granting Christmas wishes, Project USO Elf provides a way for Americans to say "thank you" to the troops by helping them financially, she added.
This year's main event sponsors were ATK, DynCorp, EMC and VMware.
ATK, a major defense contractor, provided a gift-wrapping station.
"It's a great opportunity for us to give back and let our servicemembers and their Families know how much we appreciate their sacrifices," said Guy M. Bourn, vice president for defense systems for ATK, Washington Operations.
During the event, military parents also received a free book, "Elf Dog," and had the chance to visit the Washington Nationals' booth, or take a photo with one of the Nationals' mascots, Bill (William Taft). There was also a table with free Christmas ornaments and decorations.
"It's pretty amazing that (they) were able to get this together for all the Families who need the help during the holidays. Times get hard and money gets tight, so this is definitely a blessing," said Sgt. Bobby Price, 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) transportation noncommissioned officer stationed at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall.
Price picked up toys for his three children on Friday and said he couldn't wait to see their reactions on Christmas morning.
"This is going to be awesome for them," he said.
For more information on Project USO Elf and other annual USO-Metro programs and events, visit