By Tina Ray/ParaglideDecember 4, 2009
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Many Soldiers spend much of their lives giving of their time to others. Now is the time of year when efforts are being made to give something back to Soldiers and their Families.
The Holiday Hearts Program, Operation Homefront Toy Shop and Chaplain Soldier and Family Fund are three projects that will make this Christmas warmer for military Families.
Developed in 2003, the Holiday Hearts Program was initiated to match Soldiers and their Families with others in the community who want to help. On base, it is administered by Army Community Service, Armed Forces YMCA and by the Installation Volunteer Services.
Soldiers with a verifiable hardship and who are below the ranks of corporal or specialist are eligible to receive gifts or a gift card for a child living in the home. Those with the rank of sergeant through sergeant first class and captains and below could be considered on a case-by-case basis, said Melissa Gomez, ACS volunteer coordinator.
"If a first sergeant or commander signed off on the paperwork, then we considered it a verifiable hardship," she said.
ACS set up a hearts tree, similar to an angel tree, in the Soldier Support Center to collect information regarding a child's sex and age.
"I set the tree up twice and twice all my hearts have been gone," Gomez said. "I had to wait to get more. People kept calling because they wanted to adopt Families."
More than 130 Families applied for assistance this year. However, the deadline to receive submissions was Friday. Community participants could donate toys, clothing or a gift card to the eligible Families.
Deborah Hall, ASYMCA program director, said she is pleased with the community's response and that a shipment of Mattel toys had been delivered Tuesday. The shipment included dolls, matchbox cars and comic figurines.
"I think the community really does good," Hall said.
Volunteers are needed to wrap gifts at the North Post Exchange Sunday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Dec. 10, 3 to 9 p.m.; Dec. 17, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Dec. 22, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Volunteers are also needed at the South Post Exchange Tuesday, 3 to 9 p.m. and Dec. 23, 3 to 9 p.m., Hall said.
Soldiers approved to participate in the Holiday Hearts Program may collect their gifts from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday to Dec. 11 at the ASYMCA building.
Operation Homefront Toy Shop
About 900 Families registered for toys through Operation Homefront Toy Shop, said Tracy Curran, Operation Homefront community representative for Fort Bragg. Registration, which closed Tuesday, was held online at www.operationhomefront.net/HolidayGiving.asp. Operation Homefront Toy Shop, with the help of major retailer, supplies toys to the children of deployed Soldiers. Spouses must pick up the toys.
The age limit for the children ranged from 12 months to 10 years, said Curran. Each Family will be given a $30 toy and two, $10 toys per child.
Toys will be distributed to registered and confirmed Families at the National Guard Armory on Owen Drive, Friday, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
"It's amazing to be able to do this for our deployed Families. It's incredible to be able to help Families that need a little extra help at the holidays," she said.
Chaplain Soldier, Family Fund
On Nov. 19, the Chaplains Office distributed more than $75,000 worth of food vouchers to 1450 Soldiers. The vouchers are redeemable at the post commissary, said Chaplain (Maj.) Antonio J. McElroy. Money for the vouchers was obtained from the Chaplain Soldier and Family Fund, collected through tithes and offerings at worship services and through individual and community donations.
Company commanders, first sergeants and each unit minister team informed chaplains of Soldiers in need of holiday financial assistance. Army Emergency Relief also made referrals.
"I just think it's an awesome feeling to be able to help a Soldier who is struggling and it's a group effort from all the chaplains on base," McElroy said.
The Chaplains Soldier and Family Fund is functional year-round, he said. For more information about receiving financial or hardship assistance on Fort Bragg, contact AER at 396-2507 or the Financial Readiness Program at 396-8682 or visit the ACS Web site at www.fortbraggmwr.com/acs.php.