By Christine June, USAG Kaiserslautern Public AffairsDecember 2, 2008
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany - As part of a holiday season tradition, U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern will thank its Soldiers and their families for their service throughout the year.
Started 11 years ago, the annual events are the Army Community Services' Toy Outreach Program and Chaplain's Office Operation Helping Hands.
Both programs show the garrison's support to community members, and are in direct line with the Army Family Covenant in improving people's quality of life, said Selinda Torbert, the garrison's ACS outreach coordinator, who is organizing this year's Toy Outreach Program.
"It's important that we support the whole family in the KMC (Kaiserslautern military community) because we are a community, and we all need to support each other during the holiday season," said Torbert.
The garrison's Toy Outreach Program - sometimes referred to as the ACS Holiday Toy Drive - relies on the KMC to donate money or new toys for nominated children whose ages range from infant to 11.
Donations of gift certificates or movie cards are recommended for children ages 12 to 18.
"This program makes it possible for a child in a family - that may have fallen upon a difficult time - to have something under the tree for Christmas," said Torbert.
Toy-collection boxes were placed in October and will remain until Dec. 16 at high-traffic areas: the Vogelweh PowerZone and Base Exchange; the 21st Theater Sustainment Command's headquarters building on Panzer Kaserne; and the garrison headquarters and ACS buildings on Pulaski Barracks.
All nominated families are referred to ACS by unit first sergeants and sergeant majors. Last year, 493 children from 328 Army families received 1,479 toys, said Torbert.
Currently, she added, about 600 children from more than 300 families have been referred.
About 350 toys were donated during this year's American Forces Network Kaiserslautern's Spirit Drive, meaning about 600 toys and 70 gift certificates are still needed for this year, said Torbert.
Gift distributions to nominated families will be made, by appointment only, Dec. 17 and 18 at the Kaiserslautern-Landstuhl Spouses' Association Office on Pulaski Barracks. A make-up day is scheduled Dec. 19 at the KLSA Office.
While toys are being handed out, the families will also receive commissary food vouchers for Christmas dinner from Operation Helping Hands, sponsored by the garrison Chaplain's Office.
"Operation Helping Hands is a program that 'cares for its own,' because it would not be possible without contributions received from the community," said Staff Sgt. Jonathan Vinson, noncommissioned officer in charge of garrison religious support operations, who is assisting with this year's program.
He said funding comes from donations made by individuals and private organizations, and designated offerings are held twice a year at the garrison's five congregations.
Last year, the program distributed 350 vouchers. This year, it is anticipated that more than 400 vouchers will be given to families of junior enlisted Soldiers in the community, said Vinson. He added that the amount of the voucher is determined by family size.
With one voucher, a family can buy a turkey or ham, stuffing and all the trimmings for a Christmas dinner, said Vinson.
"It's a way for us to say 'thank you' to them for what they are doing," he said.