A Troop Christmas

By Chandra Orr

September 5, 2008 5 min read

A TROOP CHRISTMAS

A difficult time becomes lighter with care packages

Chandra Orr

Creators News Service

"May no soldier go unloved.

May no soldier walk alone.

May no soldier be forgotten,

Until they all come home."

- Soldiers' Angels Motto

Nothing boosts troop morale quite like a package from home. Even if you don't know a soldier stationed overseas, the holidays are the perfect time to show you care.

"The holidays are a very difficult time for soldiers to be away from their loved ones. They miss their family, their friends and especially their spouses and children," Janet Kelly, director of development and donor services for Soldiers' Angels, said. The group sends letters, care packages and comfort items to deployed troops. "It is so important to remind them that they are not forgotten, that while those of us here are home enjoying the festivities, we are holding close in our hearts those that serve far from home."

Seven years ago, the Department of Defense suspended mail addressed to "Any Service Member" due to heightened security and transportation constraints, but there are plenty of organizations that can help get your generous gifts into the right hands.

To connect the public with more than 300 non-profit organizations that support military personnel, the department created America Supports You (americasupportsyou.mil). Organizations are broken down into categories based on the type of assistance offered, from care packages and letters of encouragement to academic scholarships for military children and adaptive clothing for injured soldiers.

Some of this year's holiday programs include:

WRAPPED IN HOLIDAY SPIRIT

This season, the nonprofit, volunteer-run Soldiers' Angels aims to boost morale with its "Wrapped in Holiday Spirit" campaign. The goal is to ensure that each of the estimated 180,000 soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan receive a holiday care package, complete with a homemade blanket.

Soldiers' Angels accepts a wide variety of donations, including airline miles and used technology. For their holiday campaign, the group requests donations of handmade blankets and care package items like travel coffee mugs, hot chocolate, boot socks, protein bars and international phone cards.

Those who wish to show their support can also contribute financially. Each $25 donation covers the cost of one care package. For details, visit soldiersangels.org.

OPERATION USO CARE PACKAGE

The USO, or United Service Organizations, is perhaps best known for entertaining troops overseas with celebrity appearances and star-studded concerts, but the group also works directly with the Department of Defense to distribute care packages where they are needed most. Since 2003, the USO has sent more that 1 million packages to troops deployed in Afghanistan, Iraq and other overseas locations.

For every $25 donation, the USO will send a care package valued at $75 to a deployed service member with a personalized message of support from the donor. Each care package includes a prepaid international phone card, snacks, playing cards, reading material, sunscreen and personal care products. To donate, visit uso.org or call 877-USO-GIVE. Contributions are 100 percent tax deductible.

OPERATION HOMEFRONT

Every troop member deployed overseas leaves behind a family that often struggles to make it through the holidays and make ends meet. With 30 chapters nationwide, Operation Homefront has helped more than 45,000 military families with emergency aid and financial assistance.

"It's important to remember the families that get left behind when a spouse is deployed," Todd Schorle, president of the Operation Homefront Illinois chapter, said. "The troops appreciate it the most when they know their family is being supported back home."

While each chapter is unique in the services they offer, many will coordinate holiday Adopt-a-Family programs and distribute baskets with food, gift certificates and toys. Other programs include housing assistance, free financial planning classes and backpacks for children.

Operation Homefront accepts monetary contributions and donations of household items, vehicles and real estate -- and volunteers are always appreciated. To learn more or to locate a local chapter, visit operationhomefront.net.

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