Representatives of Sierra Providence Health Network kicked off Operation Open Arms Oct. 23 at Sierra Providence East Medical Center.

Operation Open Arms is a SPHN initiative in support of its military neighbors at Fort Bliss. The kick-off began a 24-day food drive to collect food donations from the community to help stock the food locker at the Armed Services YMCA. The locker provides assistance to about 80 military families each month. Last year the food drive helped provide 1,021 Thanksgiving food baskets. This year's goal is to help 1,200 families.

"Our young Soldiers and their family members today are a proud and noble group of Americans who at times struggle to make ends meet given their devotion to duty and selfless sacrifice," said Col. Randall Lane, commander of the 5th Brigade, 1st Armored Division. "This helping hand truly means so much to our young families and we are deeply moved by your care and compassion. I know that I speak for all of them when I say from the bottom of our hearts, thank you."

Stagecoach Cartage and Distribution has loaned a semi-trailer as the donation site at Sierra Providence East Medical Center. The drive will run to Nov. 14. Collection hours at SPEMC site are 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays. Collection bins are in the dining areas at Providence Memorial Hospital, Sierra Medical Center and Sierra Providence Rehabilitation Hospital. On Friday, the semi-trailer will be at the Wal-mart parking lot located at N. Mesa and Interstate 10 West.

"Operation Open Arms is a fitting name for this program. Fort Bliss has a 160 year proud history of wrapping its arms around El Paso and protecting our country," said Sally Hurt-Steffen, chief executive officer of Sierra Providence East Medical Center. "It serves as a stimulus to our economy and has helped define El Paso's history. It is only fitting for us to open our arms to this important member of our great community and to help the ASYMCA."

For every pound of food collected for this designated charity to assist families, the Tenet Healthcare Foundation's "Feed the Need Drive" will donate $1, up to a maximum of $5,000 annually. For more information, call Rick Glancey at 747-1595.