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Posts Tagged ‘Holiday Meals for Military’

Guest blog by Angela Costa, Community Investment Analyst, CSX

As part of CSX’s Pride in Service initiative, which is focused on supporting the military community, veterans and first responders, I’ve been fortunate to volunteer at some really moving events that not only touched my heart, but positively touched the lives of many families. My latest service experience — and one of my favorites to date — was the Operation Homefront Back-to-School Brigade here in my hometown of Jacksonville, Fla. This was a special event, not only because of COVID-19 and the new “drive-through” protocols, but because I got to meet some amazing families and volunteers. In fact, I got to sit down with Sarai Pagan, an Operation Homefront volunteer who — along with her seven kids! – have also benefited from the program in the past. I love how she is creating a cycle of service by giving back to others like her. In hearing her story, I learned firsthand what this program means to military moms. Check out our conversation!

When did you learn about Operation Homefront?

My brother is a Marine, and as a military sibling I joined a pen pal program where I met my husband, David, who is in the Navy. As our family grew, we became involved with Operation Homefront when my husband was stationed at Camp Pendleton, California. Since then, we’ve lived in various locations including Virginia, Guam and now Jacksonville, where we’ve stayed in touch with Operation Homefront.

Both Angela Costa & Sarai Pagan prepping for military families to receive their school supplies at the 2020 Jacksonville Back-to-School Brigade.

How did Operation Homefront support you and your family?

While stationed in California, we heard about the Holiday Meals for the Military, Operation Homefront’s kits for military families that include everything you need for a holiday dinner. As a young, growing military family, having a meal given to us meant that we could repurpose that money on rent or other bills and still have a wonderful holiday. This served as a huge financial benefit, but it also meant a lot to receive such a thoughtful gift. We also participated in an Operation Homefront Star-Spangled Babies baby shower where we received a rocking chair, which was a great feeling as this was the first one I had for any of my children!

What made you make the transition from benefiting from these incredible programs to volunteering to help other families like yours?

While we were stationed in Virginia, my husband moved up in rank in the Navy, and our family became more financially stable. We wanted to pay forward the support we’ve received and help younger military families that needed it now more than ever. I jumped in full force – I made myself and my family fully available for Operation Homefront for anything they needed, from picking up supplies, to volunteering at events, and even organizing our own events.

What has stood out to you the most, as a volunteer?

While my family and I were on the USS Gerald Ford, I organized and set up the ship’s first-ever Star-Spangled Babies baby shower. Operation Homefront helped contribute to the baby shower in which everyone went home with about $350 worth of items for each of the families participating. These families weren’t expecting anything of this magnitude, and the way Operation Homefront showed up was truly incredible. Every family walked out with items they needed to start their families, including car seats, strollers, and pack ’n plays. They no longer had to worry about how to pay for these items on their own.

How has the need for these services changed or increased due to COVID-19, and how have other military spouses been handling the pandemic?

Operation Homefront’s Back-to-School Brigades help alleviate the anxiety for families struggling to pay for supplies like backpacks, notebooks, etc., for the upcoming school year. It has been devastating to see the pandemic take a toll on military spouses – many of whom lost their jobs and critically need this support. This, plus the uncertainty surrounding school this fall, makes these events even more meaningful this year. I’m also familiar with Operation Homefront’s other services, such as Critical Financial Grants for basic family needs like bills and car repairs. This organization has really supported military families throughout the pandemic.

Sarai and her husband, David at the 2020 Back-to-School Brigade in Jacksonville, Florida.

What advice do you have for other military families who may have similar needs that you did?

As both a past beneficiary family and a current volunteer of Operation Homefront, I’ve learned that the support from this organization is unlike any other. It’s really important that military families, especially young ones, take the help that is given and not be prideful, rather than face the financial and emotional challenges of being a growing military family alone.

Thank you, Sarai, for your insights and for taking the time to share your story. From all of us at CSX, we thank you and your family for serving our country and perpetuating that service through your support of other military families.

Through Pride in Service, our signature community investment initiative supporting military, veterans and first responders, CSX supports Operation Homefront’s Critical Financial Assistance grants, Back to School Brigades and Star-Spangled Babies programs. I had no idea when I met Sarai that she or those she knows had benefited from each and every one of these awesome outreach efforts! With organizations like Operation Homefront and community members like Sarai, we can connect our country’s military, veterans and first responders to what they need, when they need it most.

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While the holidays can be filled with joy, friendship and family, they can also be a stressful time for military families who are on a tight budget or are separated from their loved ones.

Thanks to our generous donors, Operation Homefront’s Holiday Meals for Military program helps fill some of those gaps by providing military and veteran families with a dinner complete with all the fixings. Throughout the holiday season, Operation Homefront and their partners will have hosted nearly 60 events nationwide, serving more than 10,400 families.

Some of the events also include toy giveaways and visits from Santa.

At a recent Thanksgiving event in San Antonio, Texas, hosted by San Antonio Shoemakers, more than 400 families picked up meal kits and their turkey. Now in its fifth year, the shoe company’s HMFM event has distributed 9,500 meals across Texas since the partnership began, and this year they packed 1,600.

The Cino triplets and friend had a blast at HMFM 2019!

Military spouse Jackie Cino brought her triplets and made sure to tell her friend Stephanie Robirds, another military spouse, so she too could come along to pick up a meal. This was the third year in a row for Jackie whose husband Miles is a staff sergeant in the Army. He’s served for 11 years and is now stationed at Fort Sam Houston where he and Stephanie’s husband, Chris, a staff sergeant with seven years of service, work as instructors.

“This year we’re doing dinner for guys that don’t have their family here that will be coming to eat with us,” Jackie said.

Stephanie and Jackie thanked donors who help out, “especially this time of year,” Stephanie said, “because money is always tight.”

“This year we’re doing dinner for guys that don’t have their family here that will be coming to eat with us.”

With more than 100 volunteers from SAS Shoes who either packed up the dinner kits during the week or helped with distribution on the weekend, SAS CEO Nancy Richardson said the company’s employees want to help make a difference. San Antonio is known as “military city” and many of the employees have either served themselves or have family members who are veterans or active duty.

“To actually do something that feels meaningful to them in a positive way so that (our military) truly do feel appreciated.”

“Part of what we are trying to do here is not to make it seem like a platitude,” she said. “But, to actually do something that feels meaningful to them in a positive way so that they truly do feel appreciated.”

At the weekend distribution, three active duty airmen helped carry frozen turkeys. Air Force Staff Sgt. Ashley Warden is in the volunteer reserves for Operation Homefront and this year brought along Air Force Master Sgt. William Laflair and Master Sgt. Nancy Horsey.

Nancy said she would like the donors to know that “a lot of military members would have a hard time at the holidays and this really makes it easier for them.”

Ashley sees volunteering for OH as a time to pay it forward from when she would get assistance.

“Especially this time of the year, there’s no better time to give back and be thankful for what we have and what we have benefited from in the past and help others who might be struggling or might experiencing a rough patch,” she said.

The San Antonio event gave Operation Homefront staff and volunteers the opportunity to meet some new people as well as catch up with some longtime friends.

Operation Homefront events often feel like reunions for our volunteers and families.

Veteran Army Spc. Charles Henry was one of those familiar faces. In 2012, Charles received a home through Operation Homefront’s Homes on the Homefront program.

“During Thanksgiving time, it’s always something we don’t have to think about because Operation Homefront is there for us,” he said.

He often tells people about Operation Homefront’s programs and the great support his family has received. He hopes donors and volunteers, like those at San Antonio Shoes who hosted the HMFM event, plus OH staff and volunteers know they are making a difference.

“My family thanks you,” Charles said. “We are very appreciative of the work they’ve done in San Antonio and throughout the United States. (Operation Homefront) is a great organization that changes veterans’ lives, as they did mine.”

For more information on Operation Homefront’s programs, including Holiday Meals for Military, visit operationhomefront.org.

See pictures from many of our Holiday Meals for Military events on our Flickr page.

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Before we jump into 2018, we’d like to look back at some of the best moments from this past year. It goes without saying that we are able to advance our mission to build strong, stable, and secure military families because of those who give – our individual and corporate donors. Thank you! These moments would not happen without you.

1. These women came to our caregiver retreat…in a hurricane! As Hurricane Harvey was skirting San Antonio, we were hosting a group of caregivers along the Riverwalk for a very special retreat, as part of our Hearts of Valor program. They would not be kept away by a hurricane and there’s a good reason. These retreats are designed to uplift those who are closest to wounded veterans. The retreats give caregivers a much-needed break and education about invisible wounds, compassion fatique, healthy living and staying connected. Special thanks to our sponsor, USAA, for making these retreats possible.

 

2. Our annual gala to celebrate military kids has become a must-attend event! Celebrating the youngest heroes of our military families is one of our favorite things to do. This year’s Military Child of the Year® Award, once again, recognized several outstanding young men and women who represent their families, their branches of service and their country very well. Read more about them and you’ll be inspired. Looking forward to meeting next year’s award recipients in April 2018 in Washington D.C. Who will they be? We’ll find out in early March! #GivingStrength

 

3. There’s no place like home! We get to be a part of making dreams come true through our Homes on the Homefront program that awards mortgage-free homes to veterans. To date, we’ve awarded 599 homes since the program began. All of this is possible because of our great partners like Chase, Meritage Homes, Wade Jurney Homes and Sears (who donated and raised money to provide two homes to veteran families in 2017). Stay tuned as we plan a big celebration for our 600th home in 2018.

 

 

4. Special nights for military spouses? Yes, we did! The call to military life is not easy on a service member’s spouse. Being apart from your service member AND trying to hold down the homefront is managed more easily when you have friends nearby. Our Homefront Celebrations give military spouses a night away to relax, make new friends and be pampered just a little. And thanks to our friends at Southern New Hampshire University, these events have bolstered the careers for some very special women who received a full-tuition scholarship at each celebration, like Megan Morris (pictured here at our event in Tampa, FL). Stay tuned as we announce another year of Homefront Celebrations around the country in 2018.

 

5. Awwwwwww! At our Star-Spangled Baby Showers each year, we get all mushy at the sights and sounds of our expecting moms and the young moms who bring along their sweet newborns. In 2017, we hosted 9 events from coast to coast, a few places in between and even Hawaii, providing critical baby supplies and large raffle items to hundreds of military moms. We were also excited to be joined by Procter and Gamble and Paralympic veteran Melissa Stockwell at our baby shower in Chesapeake, VA.

 

6. The holidays wouldn’t be the same without you! It’s been an honor serving military families around the country. Thanks to our generous donors, we served more than 11,000 families with everything they needed for a spectacular holiday meal. Since we began our holiday programs in 2008, we have served nearly 80,000 military families, impacting over 330,000 family members. See our feature blog to celebrate another year of bringing joy to our military families this holiday season!

 

7. When it was time to hit the books, we made it a little easier. Going back to school is expensive. Military kids have enough to deal with and not having the right supplies should not be one of their struggles. We were happy to meet so many smiling faces, like this child in Dayton, OH, and remove the financial burden from their families. This year, we hit a major milestone, as we distributed our 300,000th backpack since the program began which included more than 41,000 backpacks given to military children around the U.S. this summer alone.

 

8. Home Depot Really Is #DoingMore4Vets! From golf tournaments to renovating veterans’ homes to providing support for our Critical Financial Assistance program, The Home Depot Foundation, and its band of Team Depot volunteers, are a long-time partner who support means so much as they join us in giving strength to military families! We were honored to present a Cornerstone Award to Heather Prill, Senior Manager, National Partnerships at The Home Depot Foundation for her contributions to the national nonprofit’s mission to build strong, stable, and secure military families this past September.

 

9. Transition from service can be a challenging time for veterans. Especially if they are coping with injuries and illnesses from their service. Our rent-free transitional housing villages stand ready to help when these families need it the most. Since inception, our villages have welcomed more than 500 families who lived in a rent-free, fully furnished apartment to help them make a smooth transition to civilian life. Our Critical Financial Assistance program helps military and veteran families overcome unexpected crises like a major appliance or car repair or help with rent or mortgage. We’ve been able to help veterans like Petero Taufagu who needed help getting his car repaired. Later, through our partnership with American Airlines, he also received a brand-new Jeep Cherokee. So now he has a reliable way to get to his necessary doctor appointments. Our donors, sponsors, and supporters are the reason we have been able to provide over $22 million in financial aid, fulfilling more than 40,000 requests.

 

10. Fact IS Stranger Than Fiction! We can’t make this stuff up!

a. Cracker Barrel created the Flip It Forward Pancake Fundraiser and raised $64,000 for Operation Homefront! It included a media tour with a pancake artist who even created our logo in pancake batter. We thought about framing it…then thought again.

b. Who doesn’t secretly harbor the desire to shatter glass? Our friends at CDW found a way to convince PGA TOUR players Ben Crane, Smylie Kaufman, Ryan Palmer and CDW-sponsored Gary Woodland to compete in a “glass breaking” event between the golf pros. And more was at stake than just bragging rights – winner Gary Woodland presented an additional donation of 10 Lenovo Chromebooks – five to Operation Homefront and five to the charity of Woodland’s choice. The entire event raised support for military families through Operation Homefront.

c. A personalized burger? Carnival Cruise Lines is known for fun but they outdid themselves when they devised a way to laser-burn personal well-wishes from military supporters onto burgers they served to Marines at a special event at MCAS Miramar in California. They even got former Miss USA DeShauna Barber there to serve the burgers and provided a $25,000 donation to Operation Homefront. You have to see the pictures to believe it.

d. We’ll brave a blizzard for you! We were still in the doldrums of summer heat when Chevy first invited us to be a part of their #ChevySalutes event to honor the military at the Army-Navy Game in Philadelphia. Let’s just say winter hit with a vengeance that day and provided a very memorable experience to award a brand-new 2018 Chevrolet Traverse to one of the nicest caregivers and her seven-tour combat veteran husband. Don’t worry, we dressed warmly, mom!

 

11. We still get starstruck! We’ve been excited to work with some pretty inspiring people this year.

a. The Pale Ale Wins the Summer of Yes! Carson Daly who worked with Other Half Brewing to create a craft beer with proceeds to support Operation Homefront as part of his #SummerOfYes on the Today Show.

b. Wonder-Super-Mega-Amazing Melissa Stockwell: Through our partnership with P&G, we got to work with the very inspiring Melissa Stockwell, who is a bronze-medal winning, 2-time Paralympian, triathlete and Purple Heart wounded Army veteran. She attended one of our Star-Spangled Baby Showers in Virginia and has since welcomed her own baby Millie to her sweet family.

c. Tim McGraw Walks the Walk. And where do we start with Tim McGraw? We’ve been working with this country superstar since 2012. From his personal support to joining us to award mortgage-free homes along with Chase, he has been a steadfast champion for military and veteran families. #GivingStrength #startstrongstaystrong

 

12. We have the best volunteers! Our volunteers show up and pitch in whenever they are needed. We host hundreds of events all year long from Alaska to the tip of Florida, from San Diego to Massachusetts. This year, we created a special Volunteer Reserves which recruits our volunteers that want to get involved, but don’t want to volunteer on a daily basis or even a weekly basis, but they’re very interested in staying in the loop and ready to be called on when we need help serving our military families.

There are so many moments to remember in 2017. And each was an honor because we got to be a part of serving our military and veteran families. That makes any year a great year!

If you’d like to be a part of giving strength this holiday season and making our 2018 even better, consider giving to a current need of a military family to give them the best start possible to the New Year!

 

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For military families, home is where your heart is. So….we wrote, or kind of rewrote, a very special song just for you and added a few pictures from our Holiday Meals for Military program. Thank you for letting us be a small part of your holidays this year. We wish you a joyous season!

Ahem…here goes…

Oh….

There’s no place like home for the holidays,
For no matter how far away you roam
(and our military families often roam far)

When you long for the sunshine of a friendly gaze,
For the holidays – you can’t beat home, sweet home
(BUT we try to make it easier with our Holiday Meals for Military events)

Operation Homefront, Beam Suntory, and other generous partners worked together to distribute holiday meals to military families in 2017 through our annual Holiday Meals for Military program. This year, holiday meals were distributed at 45 events beginning in November and running through the week before Christmas.

 

We met some families down in Tennessee… 

Special thanks to Cracker Barrel Old Country Store for sending volunteers from the Corporate Office! Santa and Mrs. Claus were also there to spread a little Holiday cheer to the families.

 

and then we were headin’ for…
Old Dominion with some stops at Dix and Drum…

We were honored to make the holidays a little brighter for military families in on a wintery day in Hampton, VA.

 

Quite a bit of snow feel before Holiday Meals for Military at Fort Drum NY this year, but our Northeast Field Office was still ready and waiting for our military families.

 

From Virginia we went travelin’

Down to Dixie’s sunny shore…

Holiday Meals for Military at Fort Stewart GA (photo by Casey Jones, Photography http://www.caseyjonesphotos.com)

 

From Atlantic to Pacific ….

We were honored to serve a delicious meal to military families around Whiteman AFB and Knob Noster, MO. Thank you to Seaboard Foods and Operation BBQ for sponsoring the Holiday Meals for Military Appreciation Dinner in Knob Noster. MO.

Our Volunteer Reserves across the country were a huge part of the success of our Holiday meals for Military events, such as this one in Bremerton WA.

Mele Kalikimaka is he island greeting that we send to you from Holiday Meals for Military in Honolulu HI.

 

Gee, the traffic was terrific
(…to our Holiday Meals for Military events)

We know there’s no place like home for the holidays,
‘Cause no matter how far away you roam
If you want to be happy in a million ways,
For the holidays – you can’t beat where you call home.

 

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Just about 10,000 families came out this year to one of our 45 events across the United States and Hawaii. Thank you to Beam Suntory, Procter&Gamble, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, SAS Shoemakers, Bob & Dolores Hope Foundation, Safeway, Connelly Foundation, Southern Glazer’s, The Lukens Company, NFCU, Saint Germain Catering for partnering with us to bring holiday cheer to thousands of families across the country.

Join Operation Homefront in our mission to build strong, stable, and secure military families through our Giving Strength initiative. This holiday season, we want to give strength to our military and veteran families. We’ve compiled a list of ways you can support, honor and serve our military.

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Our veterans have given so much of themselves to an idea greater than themselves, and many of you have honored that gift through your support of our mission.  On the last day of our “11 Days, 11 Stories” series, we would like to show you how your support has impacted thousands of military and veteran families.  This support has truly made a difference, and we are encouraged, daily, by the efforts to give back to those who give so much of themselves.

Having seen his brothers serving in the Marines, Petero Taufagu felt inspired to serve as well. Born in Pago, Pago, American Samoa, he decided to enlist in the Army in 1993. Petero spent sixteen years in the Army, deploying multipe times including three tours to Iraq. In 2007, he was medically retired and began a new chapter in the expereince of many who serve: transition.

After he left the Army, Petero, his wife and five children moved from San Diego, California, to Las Vegas, Nevada. During the move their 2004 BMW broke down and with their limited funds, they fell into financial hardship. Petero’s mother had passed, so their savings were gone, leaving the family without money for their auto repair, security deposit, rent and food.

Having only one vehicle, the Taufagu family was not only experiencing financial stress but major logistic challenges. They had to coordinate dropping all five children as school as well as being two working adults. Petero’s wife had to work around his schedule. It was then when Petero was referred to Operation Homefront by the Warriors Transition Unit.

Thanks to Operation Homefront and generous donors, Petero paid off and repaired his car, as well as getting some breathing room with housing costs and groceries for his family.

“Thank you,” said Taufagu,” We had limited funds due to the move and my mother’s passing, and you guys made it happen.”

blog peteron400pix

Petero Taufagu was the recent recipient of a new Jeep Cherokee, thanks to our partnership with American Airlines.

Transition from service is a challenging time for veterans, and especially so for veterans also coping with injuries and illnesses as a result of their service.  Many times, just one financial crisis can mean the difference between continuing towards a strong, stable and secure future and a setback that can take years to overcome.  Our Critical Financial Assistance program, as well as our transitional housing villages, stands ready to help when these families need it the most.  Our donors, sponsors, and supporters are the reason we have been able to provide over $21 million in financial aid, fulfilling more than 40,000 requests*, including:

  • Providing rent-free temporary housing to more than 500 families of wounded service members, saving them over $5-million in rent and utilities though our Transitional Housing program;
  • Matching nearly 600 military families with mortgage-free homes through our Homes on the Homefront program, providing well over $56-million in deeded value;
  • Delivering over a quarter million backpacks to military kids through our Back-to-School Brigade; 
  • Serving nearly 70,000 military families through our Holiday Meals for Military program,  a program that has  impacted over 300,000 individual family members since inception.  In 2017, we will be hosting families at 32 events in 20 states, serving thousands more.

This Veterans Day, we encourage everyone to show their gratitude for the gift of freedom given to us by the centuries of service of our nation’s veterans. Send a message of thanks or stories with #RaiseYourHand. Send us your pictures and videos that show your support for our military, our country and why you answer the call! Together, united, let’s show our American pride and show some love for those who give so much to make our country great!

If you would like to help support families like the Taufagu family, you can support one of our current needs or check out more ways to give here.

If volunteering is high on your list of ways to give back, we welcome you to see the ways to Get Involved with Operation Homefront.

* numbers through Summer 2017

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kenruffblog

Operation Homefront CEO and President, John I. Pray, Jr. with Ken Ruff, Vice President of national accounts at Beam Suntory after Ken was given a cornerstone award for his work in making Holiday Meals for Military come to life.

By Erin Patterson.

It was late the night before Thanksgiving in 2009. Ken Ruff, the vice president of national accounts at Beam Suntory, was exhausted. He and his family had just finished the long drive from their home in Chicago to their hometown of Utica, New York. Ken’s daughter was sick with a cold, so he went to the grocery store to buy some cold medicine for her, looking forward to relaxing with his family the following day. While waiting in line at the grocery store to buy the medicine, he was so travel-weary he almost didn’t notice what was happening in front of him.

A young family—a soldier in uniform, his wife, and their small child—couldn’t afford to pay for their groceries. They had picked out a small piece of turkey, a loaf of bread, a box of stuffing, and a can of cranberry sauce for their Thanksgiving meal the following day, but they didn’t have enough money to buy even these few items. When Ken realized what was happening, he stepped in and paid for the groceries, insisting in spite of the young family’s polite refusal.

“It came out to a total of something like $15,” Ken said. “It was an easy thing to do.”

Ken didn’t think much of the situation at first. He was just happy to have been able to help the family, who was incredibly grateful for the gift. It wasn’t until he got back to his car in the parking lot that he was struck by an idea. It bothered him that there are so many military families who struggle during the holidays, and he wanted to do something about it.

“Christmas is a wonderful time to unplug and be with families and friends, and a lot of these people couldn’t entertain in their homes, they had to go to the base to get a holiday meal and if they had a grandparent or someone from their extended family they wouldn’t be included,” Ken remembers. “They are challenged every day of the year. It’s a very hard life for the military. During the holidays, it’s even that much more of a need because you have presents, meals, etc., so that need is even higher. Providing groceries means that they don’t have to pay for it, so there’s that sense of relief to enjoy being at home with their family.”

Ken called up his financial manager at Beam Suntory and told him to cancel the order of holiday gift baskets, which the company usually gave out to customers around the holidays. He knew that would make dollars available to make a difference in the lives of military families.

“I knew that it was a very real need that these military families don’t have the resources to have a nice meal at home. It spawned the idea to develop program. We knew that this would literally bring joy to the families,” Ken said.

Then, Ken called up Operation Homefront. Beam Suntory already had a long-standing relationship with Operation Homefront, so Ken knew that this was an organization he could trust to partner with on this program.

Ken went in front of the Beam Suntory leadership to present what would be an extraordinary idea: to create a holiday meals program in partnership with Operation Homefront. Beam Suntory was completely on board and wanted to support Ken as much as they could. The program aligned perfectly with Beam’s corporate values of taking care of the communities where their employees live and work.

With the support of both the Beam Suntory leadership and Operation Homefront, Ken now had just four weeks to pull together the holiday meals program before Christmas. He recruited different partners to donate money, food, or volunteers, and ultimately gave groceries to 500 military families. As more and more people heard about the program, they wanted to get involved and help out for the following year.

Since the beginning, the program has grown every year, delivering more meals to more military families in need. It began expanding into different bases around the country, bringing in more donations and helping even more families. The volunteers started to make the events more exciting for the families, setting up Christmas decorations and even bringing in Santa Claus for the kids. In 2015, the program delivered holiday meals to 8,500 military families. And this year, the program is expected to serve more than 12,000 military families.

Ken attributes much of the program’s development to the many partners that have jumped in and given financial donations or donations of food or time.

“Nobody thought this program would grow as much as it did. As the saying goes, it takes a community,” Ken said.

One of the main reasons why Beam Suntory has continued to partner with Operation Homefront over the years is its fiscal responsibility. 92% of Operation Homefront’s donations go directly to their programs, such as Holiday Meals for Military.

“We believe in what we’re doing with Operation Homefront,” said Emily York, the corporate communications manager at Beam Suntory. “We are very responsible with our philanthropic dollars and we want to put them to good use. The commitment to Operation Homefront and the belief in what you guys are doing is shared to the very top of our organization.

Looking back on the past few years, Ken is proud of the impact that the holiday meals program has had on so many military families, and he is incredibly grateful for the partnerships that have helped the program to continue to grow.

“It was fate being in that grocery store and having the good fortune to think of an idea to do something positive about it. I am very impressed with everything that Operation Homefront does for this program, and I’m very proud that Operation Homefront continues it,” Ken said. “The program is what it is because of Operation Homefront. I’m the first one to tell you that the support of Beam is very important, but the people at Operation Homefront make it happen. I’m really looking forward to a great holiday season. I truly believe that this will be our best year ever.”

 

 

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kathy-cox-blog

Pictured left to right: Walmart Executive Vice-President of Logistics Chris Sultemeier, Senior Manager at the Walmart Foundation Kathy Cox, Vice President Walmart Foundation Julie Gehrki and Operation Homefront President and CEO, John I. Pray, Jr.

Today we are joined by Kathy Cox, a senior manager at the Walmart Foundation, who shares the connection Walmart has with our military communities and the Foundation’s involvement in Holiday Meals for Military. 

By Erin Patterson.

The Holiday Meals for Military program can trace its start to the actions of a noble man who was moved to help a young military family pay for their groceries on the night before Thanksgiving seven years ago. One meal for one family gradually turned into hundreds, then thousands of meals for military families across the U.S. This year, the Holiday Meals for Military program will provide nearly 12,000 meals to families around the country.

The program would not be what it is today without the help of key partners, such as the Walmart Foundation. Kathy Cox, a senior manager at the Walmart Foundation, has led the strategy and grant-making for veteran and military families for the last 16 years. When she heard about the Holiday Meals for Military program, she knew that it was something Walmart wanted to support.

“Walmart and the Walmart Foundation have worked really hard since the beginning of this conflict [in Iraq and Afghanistan] to stay close to the pulse of our service members and our military families,” Kathy said. “In 2009, you’ve got American personnel and their families that had some real stress and strain. We had folks that were losing their loved ones, we had military service members who were injured. There were some real—both physical and financial—hardships that these families were dealing with. So for the holidays, what we wanted to be able to do was lift some of that burden.”

kathycoxblogimage2For Kathy and for the Walmart Foundation, it was the perfect time and the perfect program. Even more, she was very excited to be working with Operation Homefront. Kathy loved that Operation Homefront had strong relationships with military bases around the country, which meant that they would be able to specifically identify the families who most needed this type of program. At the same time, she was impressed with Operation Homefront’s fiscal responsibility. With 92% of financial donations going directly to programs like Holiday Meals for Military, Kathy knew that Operation Homefront was leveraging the Walmart Foundation’s dollars to have the highest positive impact on military families.

“We wouldn’t be investing if we weren’t certain that our military families were being served and were being served in the most efficient and effective way that makes use of our both in-kind and financial support,” Kathy said.

Looking out for service members and their families comes naturally to the Walmart Foundation. The Walmart family is filled with military families, and they have a lot of men and women who have served in the military and who are now a part of Walmart’s workforce. Furthermore, Kathy noted that military families often make up the community surrounding many Walmart stores around the country.

“There’s quite an alignment with military families anyway because that’s part of our DNA. If you’re surrounded by military families, you want to make sure that you’re supporting military families,” Kathy said.

Because the military is already such an integral part of Walmart’s community, the Foundation’s involvement in the Holiday Meals for Military program began quite organically, starting at the associate-level and moving up through the company.

“While the Foundation has helped with the corporate dollars, most recently in this campaign to make in-kind food donations, it’s our associates who have led. It’s the managers of stores that have been aligned with bases and military families that have a sincere desire to be that store of the community that serves these military families and helps lessen the challenge of putting a holiday meal on the table,” Kathy said.

Even though it started at a grassroots level, Walmart has an emotional investment—not just financial—in this program. Kathy remembers one year when she volunteered her Friday night to help prepare the bags of ingredients for the families. A young lady with two children came to register her family, and Kathy remembers how she could see that this mother had a lot weighing on her mind. As she went through the registration process, she was told that she and her family were the recipients of Christmas gifts that had been donated by another organization.

“And that’s when her resolve just broke,” Kathy remembers. “Once she regained her composure, she said, ‘You just have no idea. First, I had no idea how I was going to put a holiday meal on the table for my family. Now you’re telling me that also I have gifts that I’ll be able to share with my family. You have no idea how this will change our entire holiday season.’”

As we settle into the holiday season this year, Kathy reminds us that it’s important to be intentional in remembering our military families. Many of them are far from home and worried about whether or not they will be able to provide a happy, memorable holiday season for their children.

“Not all military families are base and with our all-volunteer force we have military families around us all the time,” Kathy noted. “I think we have to be intentional to try to get to know those families and to make sure that we’re being inclusive and recognize that not only are our military service members serving and sacrificing, these military families at home are serving and sacrificing right alongside them.”

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