As the song goes, there’s no place like home for the holidays. But for those serving our country overseas during the holiday season, getting a piece of home for the holidays is a way to make their season brighter.
Operation Holiday Cheer, a joint effort between the Lieutenant Governor’s office and the Rhode Island National Guard, is celebrating its 10th year of providing care packages to the troops.
Lt. Governor Elizabeth Roberts said the holidays are often a difficult time for troops stationed far from home.
“It’s our mission to support them and to support their families,” said Roberts at a kick-off event held at the National Guard Armory in Warwick. Roberts said providing care packages in the past and continuing to do so has been incredibly rewarding.
Major General Kevin McBride, who received Operation Holiday Cheer packages during his service overseas, said receiving small pieces of his home state made him feel appreciated.
“It makes you feel loved by the entire state of Rhode Island,” he said.
Master Sergeant Joseph Jenkins received a care package last year in Afghanistan and said he vividly remembers the day when it arrived. For Jenkins, it was all about opening the package to see things that reminded him of home – Del’s Lemonade drink mix, Autocrat coffee syrup, Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and the Providence Journal newspaper.
“They were old, but there’s nothing like having a newspaper in your hands,” he said.
Operation Holiday Cheer has a slew of corporate sponsors, including Autocrat, Hasbro and the New England Coffee Company, but the program also relies on the generosity of individual donors. The drop-off date for donations is Saturday, Dec. 8 at the National Guard Armory on Airport Road. The troops’ wish list includes things like cookies, toiletries, batteries, calling cards, candy, crossword puzzles, coffee grounds, socks, CDs, crackers and more.
Jenkins said he’s grateful to know the citizens of Rhode Island are generous and caring enough to donate the goods that go into the Operation Holiday Cheer packages.
Last year, Roberts said they sent packages to 500 National Guard troops. This year, there are only 350 on their list. At about 20 pounds per package, they’ll ship roughly 7,000 pounds of goods overseas to native Rhode Islanders spending their 2012 holidays far from home.
Although they have a long list of National Guardsmen to send supplies to, Roberts encouraged locals to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org with the names of federal troops serving overseas for the holidays. Roberts said it’s harder to track locals who are active duty Army, Marine Corps, Navy or Air Force.
In addition to accepting donations of goods to be included in the packages, Roberts said they need donations for the postage and shipping as well, since federal law prohibits the postal service from donating those items. Postal workers do, however, donate their time and energy to Operation Holiday Cheer, as do many other individuals and groups.
Elizabeth McDonald, director of emergency services for the Rhode Island Red Cross, said Operation Holiday Cheer is one more way in which the Red Cross can be “friends from home” to the military.
“We love our military and we always want to help them,” she said.
Representatives from other organizations that have partnered to make Operation Holiday Cheer a reality echoed McDonald’s sentiment.
Representatives from Amica Insurance, Bank Newport, CVS Caremark and National Grid all extended their gratitude to those fighting for our country. Some even had firsthand connections to the program.
David Casey, vice president and diversity office of CVS Caremark, remembered when he received an Operation Holiday Cheer care package in Saudi Arabia, when he was stationed there during Operation Desert Storm.
“It meant the world to me,” he said.
Tim Horan, president of National Grid, also received packages during his military service. Now National Grid is one of many organizations helping to continue the tradition for active duty troops today.
For information on how and what to donate, visit www.ltgov.ri.gov/ohc. There is also information on how to volunteer on Dec. 8 during collections, or Dec. 9, when the goods will be packaged and shipped out. To make a donation, visit www.riredcross.org, or send a check payable to American Red Cross RI Chapter/Operation Holiday Cheer to 105 Gano Street, Providence, RI 02906. Goods donated should be dropped off between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. at the National Guard Armory on Airport Road on Dec. 8. Powdered drink mixes can be dropped off at any Bank Newport location from Nov. 19 to Dec. 1