With few Guard deployments, Operation Holiday Cheer aims to help veterans

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Here’s something to cheer about: Whereas more than 360 members of the Rhode Island National Guard were on deployment last Christmas, fewer than 10 will be away from home this year, according to Major General Christopher Callahan.

Yet on Monday, Lt. Governor Dan McKee launched the 16th Annual Operation Holiday Cheer in an effort to collect enough donations to fill at least 300 gift boxes. McKee said about 100 boxes would be sent to Rhode Island military other than members of the Guard who will be out of state during the holiday season. The balance of what’s collected will go to homeless veterans under a new partnership with Operation Stand Down Rhode Island (OSDRI).

Announcement of this year’s program and the arrangement with OSDRI was made at the Armory on Airport Road, with many of the event’s sponsors as well as a couple of prior year recipients there to talks about the program.

Callahan said Guard deployments face “a bit of a lull” but that he expects that to pick up in the spring. He offered no idea of where Guard members would be deployed or how many from the ranks of 3,000 would be sent.

The fact that all but a few members of the Guard will be home this Christmas is a “good problem,” Callahan said.

McKee looked at the situation that way, too, although, as he explained, there is a fear of losing the momentum in donations and volunteers that has been built over the years.

“If there’s one or 500 they need to be recognized,” he said.

Not wanting to skip a year, McKee questioned if donations might benefit needy veterans at home, resulting in the plan to team up with OSDRI this year. He said this is a one-time commitment.

Traditionally, Operation Holiday Cheer has been a seasonal initiative to ship care packages to Rhode Island servicemen and -women who are away from home during the holidays. Each year, contributions are collected from across the state, and dozens of volunteers help assemble the packages for shipment on a single weekend in November. The packages frequently contain letters and drawings from elementary school children along with Rhode Island items such as Dunkin Donuts coffee, Del’s Lemonade and coffee syrup that deployed servicemen and -women couldn’t find.

Dee DeQuattro of OSDRI said the partnership would help the organization in its mission to serve veterans. OSDRI helps veterans with housing, employment and education.

“Just because they aren’t actively serving the country doesn’t mean we should forget their contribution,” Warwick Mayor Joseph Solomon said.

Warwick is listed as an Operation Holiday Cheer sponsor.

Donations of goods from the public will be accepted and sorted at the National Guard Armory at 541 Airport Road in Warwick on Saturday, November 17 from 8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. Volunteers will assemble packages on Sunday, November 18 from 8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m., also at the armory. To see the Troops’ Wish List, make a monetary donation or volunteer visit www.ltgov.ri.gov/ohc.

The Office of the Lieutenant Governor in partnership with the Rhode Island National Guard’s Family Assistance Center, the U.S. Postal Service Providence Branch and the Rhode Island chapter of the American Red Cross organize operation Holiday Cheer.

This program relies entirely on the generosity of individuals and corporate and community sponsors. This year’s supporters include

American Red Cross, RI Chapter, Amica Mutual Insurance Company, BankNewport, Bank RI, Banneker Industries, Blue Star Moms, City of Warwick, CVS Health, Del’s Lemonade, Dunkin’ Donuts, Finlay Extracts & Ingredients, General Dynamics Electric Boat, Girl Scouts of Southeastern New England, Hasbro, The Home Depot, Local 57 Operating Engineers, National Grid, Navigant Credit Union, New England Patriots, Ocean State Job Lot, Pawtucket Red Sox, Rhode Island Resource Recovery, Stop & Shop and U.S. Postal Service Providence Branch.

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