Of more than 100 volunteers who turned out this weekend as part of Operation Holiday Cheer, Elsie Delbarone of Warwick said Saturday morning she had “the best job” among them.
Donations arrived at the National Guard Armory on Airport Road. The energy was high. As cars and trucks pulled up with plastic bags of toiletries and other donations, volunteers from American Red Cross, Home Depot and other people who wanted to ensure that our troops were not forgotten on the holidays sprang into action. Donations were spread on tables where they were quickly sorted for packing.
Michael Cote, a Red Cross volunteer, explained that weight played an important part in the sorting. He said heavier items would be placed in the bottoms of boxes when filled on Sunday. The boxes will be mailed to the troops with postage paid through cash donations, including $5,000 from National Grid. Former Lt. Gov. Charles Fogarty started operation Holiday Cheer 10 years ago, when Rhode Island troops were serving in Iraq. Ocean State Job Lot and Dunkin’ Donuts were among the corporations donating items for the troops.
Adjutant General Kevin R. McBride of the Rhode Island National Guard, who toured the operation Saturday, was among those to get a package in Iraq.
“I remember the Del’s and the Dunkin’ Donuts. It was really nice to have things from home,” McBride said. He said the cards were especially appreciated.
Currently, McBride said, 150 members of the Guard are serving in Afghanistan, a significant reduction from the 500 who were there this time last year. Most of the troops are with the 169th Military Police based in Warren. The unit is scheduled to return in May but McBride said some special operations units are scheduled for deployment next year. There are 1,100 members of the Rhode Island Air Guard and another 2,200 in the Army Guard. McBride said packages would not only go to Guard members in Afghanistan, but also Rhode Islanders in different service branches serving outside the country.
It was the cards that made the day for Delbarone. Her job was to open the envelopes and read the cards before clearing them for inclusion in the gift packages. She went through batches of handcrafted cards from schools and organizations throughout the state. With two nephews, one in the Army, the other a Marine, and her husband, who served in the 82nd Airborne Division, Delbarone said, “We are a very patriotic family.”
“Look at these,” she said, poring over a batch of cards from the Cranston YMCA. Great attention had been given to each card. Some opened to reveal a pop-up Santa, Christmas tree or snowman. Some simply said “Ho, Ho, Ho” or “Merry Christmas.”
None of the cards were signed personally, yet some contained heart-felt personal messages. Delbarone pulled one out:
“Thank you for your service. I think that you are great and I wish you could be home with your family soon.”
It was a feeling shared by many in Operation Holiday Cheer.