By Debbie SheehanDecember 15, 2008
This is a story about goodness and caring, of holiday cheer, of how from small things big things may come and about how to fill a cardboard box with love.
Tucked away at Army Community Services (ACS) here is a group joined by common threads. It is called "Hearts Apart" and is a program managed by ACS.
The organization links family members of those deployed as Soldiers or civilians to other family members in the same situation.
This also includes those who have Soldiers or family members who travel from home often on TDY (temporary duty for training).
"We meet once a month, the third Friday of each month; we have activities for children and give adults an opportunity to meet and share concerns," said Danita Alvarado, Relocation, Deployment and Mobilization Program manager at ACS.
The group has recently added evening meetings to make it easier for children to participate.
At a recent meeting the group expressed a desire to support the troops by sending holiday packages to their loved ones and other members of their units or civilian companies. They did not have many resources, or so they thought.
An e-mail describing the project was sent to a list of 20 people. Somehow that list multiplied overnight.
"People just started telling others what we were trying to do. One contractor asked her employer if she could put a donation box in the foyer of her company; management not only said yes but opened their coffers and donated two Playstation bundles, complete with games and offered to pay to ship all the boxes overseas," said Alvarado. "There was so much support from the Fort Monmouth Community."
They may have bargained for more than they expected. In the end, 100 boxes were created for Soldiers and three large boxes that included the games were sent to units.
ACS on post is not a large facility. The conference room is usually used for small workshops or children's activities, but recently the facility became a warehouse. The conference room and the hallways around it were filled with personal hygiene products, snacks, games, books, microwavable soups and breakfast foods, pens, notebooks and just about anything else someone thought a Soldier might need or like.
There were compact discs and DVDs, 200 holiday stockings and even decorations for Soldiers to use.
Family members were on hand to pour through the vast assortment of collected items and create a box for their loved ones.
"Do you think Daddy would like this'" "I want to put in a basketball" and murmurs of approval could be heard.
Each box was topped with a holiday greeting or picture drawn by children from Child and Youth Services.
Boxes then were piled up in the hall, packages for females on one side; males on the other. There were snacks and a huge pot of chili for the volunteers.
There was a list of 37 names of loved ones deployed from the area who were to get specialized boxes; the rest were for Soldiers in their units.
Linda Via stopped by to offer support. Standing in the crowded room she was jostled by a small boy with a very big box.
"Hey watch it, that is the commanding general's wife; that's Mrs. Via," someone said.
She shook her head, "No, here at ACS, I am not Mrs. Via, I am just Linda, just one of you," she said. She held an impromptu chat with some of the spouses, writing down concerns and stopping to offer support to a Gold Star Mother, one whose child died in combat, who had come out to help.
"This is good for me," said Ida Gonzalez, mother of Spec. Michael Gonzalez, a military policeman killed in Baghdad last August in an improvised explosive device explosion. "Being here and doing this is helpful for me."
Meanwhile, a bit further south, at the Edgewood Area of Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. members of a group of early move volunteers from Army Team C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) Forward had similar plans.
"About a month ago, we began researching things our Soldiers might like or need to have and collecting items to send them over the holidays," said Bert L. Briney, Logistics and Readiness Center Command and Control Systems Avionics, Electronics Control Unit, Branch Forward.
Their effort quickly spread and donations began pouring into the Gunpowder Club, Army Team C4ISR's temporary headquarters in the Edgewood Area.
"Besides creature comforts people began dropping off telephone cards and cash for us to buy things to put in the boxes," Briney said.
They decided to send their boxes to the 50th Chemical Company, a National Guard Unit from New Jersey serving in Iraq.
Corporations picked up the shipping charges and when the Aberdeen Proving Ground Chapter of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) heard about the effort, they volunteered to do more.
"Besides donating to the holiday drive, the AUSA chapter has vowed to send boxes to the unit every month until they come home," Briney said.
As they packed the boxes, the C4ISR employees also took time to write letters of support.
"We just wanted them to know we are still here on the job and that we support them."