The Liberty County community showed its appreciation for the sacrifices made by military members and their families Wednesday through a holiday-meal distribution hosted by Operation Homefront Southeast. Operation Homefront, its corporate sponsors and 100 volunteers provided bags of food to 300 Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield families at Connection Church in Hinesville.
Walmart, Jim Beam, Dole, Chinet and other businesses and manufacturers made sure each family received canvas bags filled with nonperishable food, gift certificates and coupons. Company executives, Walmart associates and other volunteers from churches and civic groups unloaded trucks, directed traffic, registered recipients, offered refreshments and distributed food.
“We basically provide a meal — everything from turkey to dessert,” Hinesville Walmart general manager Adam Gipson said. He said 65 Walmart associates volunteered their time for the food distribution. Many are connected to the military in some way and wanted to help, he added.
“Walmart works with Operation Homefront in 22 cities,” Gipson said.
The discount retailer’s associates and others also helped turn Connection Church into a winter wonderland, decorating Christmas trees and hanging lights in the church social hall. Children lined up to sit on Santa’s lap. Kris Kringle cuddled babies and encouraged shy youngsters to whisper their Christmas wishes in his ear while parents snapped photos. Church members set up Santa’s workshop, where “elves” of all sizes helped children craft gifts for family members. Rising country-music star Andy Velo, sponsored by Jim Beam, shook the hands of soldiers, thanked them for their service and autographed copies of his CD.
“We work on this (event) 12 months out,” Operation Homefront Southeast program manager Liz Fichtel said. “We’ve already started on next year’s.”
The meal distribution began in 2009, she said, after a Jim Beam associate stood in a grocery-store line behind a soldier who could not afford to pay his family’s grocery bill and had to put food back. She said the Jim Beam associate paid for the soldier’s groceries and relayed the experience to his co-workers, who decided they had to get involved and assist service members and their families.
“We’ve had a tough year,” said Spc. Jason Rosario, a soldier with the 3rd Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team. “To me, it’s a blessing.”
Rosario and his wife, Lorraine, have five children, ages 1, 4, 5, 9 and 12. The family transferred from Scoffield Barracks, Hawaii, to Fort Stewart in February.
“It just gets really hard at the holidays,” said Molly Bishop, a military spouse and mother of three. Bishop said many people are under the misconception that soldiers earn high salaries. She added it seems like “something always happens,” around the holidays to strain military families’ budgets further.
Staff Sgt. Marvin Moore and his wife, Akilah, introduced their youngest child, 2-month-old Lia Lindsey, to Santa Claus during the meal distribution. The couple’s two older children are 10 and 13.
“We are in the middle of a transition here,” Moore said. “I haven’t even signed in yet.”
The soldier and his family just transferred from Fort Bliss to Fort Stewart. Moore is assigned to the 1st Battalion, 64th Armor, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team.
“Operation Homefront Southeast’s mission is to assist military families and wounded warriors during difficult times by providing assistance,” Operation Homefront Southeast program director Cecelia Jeffery said.
Ninety-seven of the families Operation Homefront serves are junior and mid-grade enlisted, E1-E6, according to OperationHomefront.net. The organization has met 750,000 needs for military families since it was established in 2002, according to the website. Operation Homefront provides rent and mortgage assistance, wounded-warrior family transitional housing, military youth programs, baby items, emergency home repair, caregiver retreats, local moving assistance, essential home items, urgent vehicle repair and food assistance.
For more information, call 1-800-722-6098 or email Southeast@OperationHomefront.net. For emergency financial assistance, call 1-877-264-3968.