By Laura Oakes (Fort Drum Family and MWR)January 5, 2011
The holiday season always seems to spark an accelerated generosity in us all. It is the season for giving and this inspires us to think of those who may have an unmet need or of those who are exceptionally generous to us. Soldiers and their Family Members are willing to give the ultimate sacrifice year round and because of this, were the recipients of an abundance of generosity at Fort Drum this past December. The Holiday season kicked off at Fort Drum with the very popular and well attended Tree Lighting Ceremony on December 1. This event marked the beginning of a fun filled evening sponsored by the Command Chaplain\'s office with a reception hosted by Fort Drum's Child Youth and School Services chapter of Boys and Girls Club. Home baked cookies and, beverages were offered while everyone got a chance to visit with Santa and pick out a toy of their choice from the large assortment donated for this event by local Dollar Tree Stores. On December 7 Fort Drum Family and MWR and the Northern New York - Fort Drum chapter of AUSA partnered with the Sergeants Majors Association, AmeriCU Credit Union and Mountain Community Homes to bring some extra holiday magic to Military Families on Fort Drum at the annual Fort Drum Family Holiday Celebration. The festivities began shortly after 5 pm when the crowd filed into the Commons at Dillenbecks Corners, community center ballroom ablaze with holiday lights and aglow with whimsical displays of Christmas trees, Santa's sleigh, and a giant Christmas train set. Fort Drum Garrison Commander, COL Noel Nicole welcomed everyone and presented plaques of appreciation to the sponsors of this event for their generous support. Santa's arrival brought a smile to young and old as children and parents followed a trail of snowflakes placed on the floor to visit and have a photo taken with him. Once each child's visit with Santa was complete they took a walk to his magic toy machine where a ticket was inserted to receive one of the 310 toys that were distributed that evening. Pizza, cookies and punch was provided to everyone in attendance, a magic show and balloon creations, and holiday crafts were offered to children by Child, Youth, and School Services staff to keep everyone busy. Throughout the evening, Military Family Members, who pre-registered, were able to participate in Operation Best Wishes sponsored by AmeriCU Credit Union, a program where Families recorded holiday greetings then sent to their Soldier while deployed. Dedicated volunteers worked throughout the evening to insure that families had an enjoyable experience. Everything was provided to attendees at no cost thanks to the generosity of the event's sponsors and despite the snowy winter weather, over 500 attendees enjoyed this successful event, a true gift to the Fort Drum Community. A bit later in the week Fort Drum Families who were chosen by their unit command, received a free Christmas Tree compliments of Trees for TroopsA,A(R), a program sponsored by the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation and FedEx Corporation. Trees for TroopsA,A(R) celebrated its sixth year of bringing real, fresh-cut Christmas Trees to Fort Drum Families with over 500 Christmas Trees delivered. Fort Drum's Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers (BOSS) set up distribution times for each unit to pick up the trees prior to their arrival. Since 2005, the program has touched the lives of more than 66,000 military families at more than 50 bases across the U.S. and overseas. In 2010, Trees for Troops delivered more than 16,000 farm-grown Christmas Trees to all branches of the military. Approximately 300 trees were shipped overseas for troops in the Middle East; the rest were distributed to Military Families throughout the United States. The trees were provided by more than 800 Christmas Tree growers and retailers in 29 states and growers from the Northern New York area were on hand at the Fort Drum delivery to lend a hand. On December 13, the kind folks at Operation Tribute made a special delivery to Fort Drum. Fort Drum Families registered over 1300 of their children straining the 2010 Operation Tribute budget, but financial assistance was gladly provided by local Dunkin Donut franchisees. On December 13, Mark Badeau, Chairperson of Operation Tribute, and his wife Margo delivered a large trailer with over 1100 packages to Fort Drum themselves, saving on the mailing costs in order to make Operation Tribute donation dollars stretch even further. Family Members retrieved their children's packages at the Fort Drum FMWR Arts and Crafts facility in time to tuck them under the tree for a Christmas morning surprise. The next evening offered the folks on Fort Drum a taste of an old time Christmas with the Holiday Evening by the Fireside event held at Buster's Brew Pub located at the Commons Community Facility. Cozy fireside candlelit tables were set among traditional Christmas decorations while guests were offered a special holiday menu. Wine and adult beverage tastings were offered by local vendors and as a special treat, members of Northern Blend, the current international gold medal champion woman's a cappella chorus, entertained guests with 4-part traditional and humorous holiday harmony. Fort Drum's 15th annual Mountain of Toys program, sponsored by the Sergeants Major Association, accepted monetary contributions and donations of new or gently used item and then distributed them to military Families in need throughout the month of December. Thirty beautifully handcrafted wooden trucks were donated by the very generous supporter, Kent and Diane MacaFee. 3rd Brigade Combat Team volunteered to help run the Mountain of Toys operation at one of the Fort Drum Housing community center proving that the Military community strives to do their part in taking care of its own. Jamie Stein, daughter of Abbe and Fred Stein, and a student from Ardsley, NY, believes that everyone can relate to the concept of seeking solace in a good book. Jamie organized a book drive called Books to Soldiers, focused on the collection and distribution of new and gently used books for Armed Forces here and overseas. Jamie visited Fort Drum's McEwen Library on December 16 where she and her father delivered over 1300 books for free distribution to the Soldiers and Families of Fort Drum. On December 23 the deliveries were more likely to be expected from the Stork than Santa when a live taping of NBC's Today Show honored 112 Military Family mothers-to-be on Fort Drum. The segment focused on the stress and sacrifices expectant Military Spouses experience. The women in attendance were surprised after the live interview segment to see 50 employees of Walmart Supercenter in LeRay, NY file in one by one, giving each woman a stroller full of infant and toddler necessities donated by Walmart and coordinated with Operation Shower, a nonprofit organization that provides spouses of deployed soldiers with baby showers. This was indeed a welcome holiday delivery. The holiday spirit is alive and well in the North Country and the generosity to the Military Family during the holiday was overwhelming but considering the sacrifices made by those same Military Families every day it is just a token of the immense appreciation that is their due.