ZAVENTEM, Belgium – In a year when COVID-19 health concerns have taken priority over travelling and socializing, U.S. Army Garrison Benelux aims to keep its community members connected to one another, especially during the holiday season.Personnel with Army Community Services across the garrison are organizing the Make a Connection Campaign to link volunteers with geographically isolated service members, and the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation are organizing the multifaceted Winterfest to provide members of the garrison Family that sense of community typical of most holiday seasons.The winter holidays often serve as the motivation to show warmth and care for one another’s neighbors, and the ACS is seeking those Families and individuals who want to show generosity of spirit. To facilitate these connections, ACS is asking for community members to contact them, let them know what they can provide, and then ACS will reach out to unit leadership for those service members who may be geographically separated from their Families this holiday season and could use that helping hand.Clint Strutt, the ACS division chief, explained that, as long as it was in accordance with host nation guidance, community members can do a lot for service members, whether that means an online watch party of a holiday classic or simply a walk together outdoors.“We don’t want physical distance or social distance, as we’ve been calling it, to turn into social isolation,” said Strutt. “If you’re feeling like you’re a little bit isolated, reach out and let us find a way to connect you to someone who has offered to be on the other end of that connection.“It’s not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength to ask for help or to ask for a connection,” he continued. “Be brave, be a little bit vulnerable if you can.”Also as part of the ACS effort to keep the garrison community connected through the holiday season is Operation Christmas Cookie, where community members are encouraged to bake cookies, drop them off to their local ACS location, who will then distribute them to single and geographically single Soldiers and community members.Strutt himself was one to take up the challenge during a recent town hall, saying he would be contributing some no-bake cookies and fudge this year.“There’s something that’s invigorating and feels really good about the giving aspect as well,” he said. “If I’m in the kitchen and I’m making cookies and I’m thinking about what I’m doing for somebody and I have that intention in my mind when I’m doing it, that makes me feel good as well, regardless of what happens with those cookies once I’m done making them.”Strutt further said that those baking cookies are also encouraged to write holiday notes and messages for the service members they share their cookies with.Community gatherings have been in years past an important component of the holiday season. This year, of course, COVID-19 prevention has taken precedence, leaving the garrison and DFMWR with the challenge of making the holiday special without mass live gatherings.Winterfest began at the end of November, beginning when tall, blank boards appeared in prominent locations at the Brunssum Site, the Brussels Site and Chièvres Air Base. DFMWR asked people to register these oversized cards and decorate them. Those cards will be displayed Dec. 11 through Jan. through Jan. 4.Other events this season include a holiday scavenger hunt happening now through Dec. 25, wherein teams take part by finding items and take pictures of themselves with the items for sharing on the DFMWR Facebook page.Stacy Perez, the director of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, believes retaining holiday traditions is important, even if community members may not be able to hold them in the typical fashion.“It’s so very important this year that we continue our traditions, that we continue to make connections with one another,” she said. “Even though we’re not gathered around a hot chocolate, we can still come together virtually and share with each other and celebrate.”Garrison community members can take part in holiday contests with cash prizes in the categories of best holiday house, ugliest sweater or pajamas, and most awkward holiday family photo Dec. 22 through Jan. 4. A little competitive spirit always makes things fun because “Winning Matters!”One of those American holiday traditions is the visit to Santa Claus. In the American Christmas tradition, parents would take their children to visit Santa Claus at the local mall. The visit to Santa this year carries with it a health risk, so instead, children can write letters to Santa, drop them off at on-post collection boxes until Dec. 14, and a few will be read live online Dec. 18 at 5 p.m.The holiday festivities that typically include a speech, musical performances, Santa’s arrival and a tree lighting have transitioned to an online-only event, scheduled for Dec. 11 at 6 p.m.And, following a tradition from the 19th century, Colonel James Yastrzemsky, U.S. Army Garrison Benelux commander, is scheduled to read “A Visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement Clarke Moore, also known by the poem’s first line “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.”“I’m hoping that there’s something for everyone, that there’s a challenge or a contest or just a social engagement – something that everyone can participate in,” Perez said of the many events on offer. “I hope this lifts everyone’s spirits and just really brings us together as a community.”“In this increasingly isolated environment we are in, it is incumbent upon us all to reach out and touch somebody this holiday season: someone near or far- new or old, in person or virtually- in any way possible,” said Col. James Yastrzemsky, USAG Benelux commander. “It only takes one person to make a difference. I am proud of our garrison for creatively keeping the holiday spirit alive to deliver cheer to one another. Thanks for all the community involvement and engagement – it is uplifting to us all. Happy Holidays!”***To learn more about the Make a Connection Campaign or Operation Christmas Cookie, email Army Community Services at usarmy.benelux.id-europe.mbx.dhr-acs@mail.mil or call them at the following:- SHAPE / Chièvres at DSN 366-6824 or +32(0)65 32 6824- Brussels / Zutendaal at DSN 597-9931 or +32(0)2 280 9931- Brunssum / Tri-border at DSN 597-4243 or +31(0)455 34 0243To learn more about Winterfest and how to participate in all the events that comprise it, visit any of the links below:- https://brunssum.armymwr.com/calendar/event/winterfest-activities/4832207/54647- https://brussels.armymwr.com/calendar/event/winterfest-activities/4825675/54628- https://chievres.armymwr.com/calendar/event/winterfest-activities/4825664/54624