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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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3a3087d5-7199-4826-982d-7bd9b50a02cbAs Thanksgiving approaches, those of us in military and veteran communities will gather around tables and give thanks, and yet, among all the hustle and bustle, something may be missing.  This could be a loved one deployed or unable to come home, a loved one who never made it home, or a feeling of loss and disconnection for some families who are transitioning from service or coping with injuries from war or years of service.

As many are wont to do when times are hard, these families will stay busy and do their best to plaster a smile on our faces during the holidays. But the feeling of something missing, the uncertainty of the future, and the heaviness of heart will  often remain despite these valiant efforts.

But valiant efforts will be made. Commands overseas and deployed will do their best to be a substitute family, and so will our communities back home.  Families with a deployed loved one will add more chairs to their tables, inviting other families with deployed loved ones to join them.  Others in our community, some with no military connection whatsoever, just love of country and service, will open their hearts and their homes to service members stationed near them that can’t be with their own families. Some will continue to honor service by volunteering at community events to serve their neighbors in need on Thanksgiving, with hearts filled with gratitude and drive to serve others above self.

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Our Holiday Meals for Military events will distribute over 11000 meal to military families across the country, including 1600 just distributed in Texas this weekend.

At Operation Homefront, most of us have personally experienced how our community can come together to fill a void. 85% of our team at Operation Homefront are veterans or families of active duty.  Almost 50% of our staff had a parent who served – giving us a unique connection with the military children we support.

We are honored to see the tradition of service continue year after year through support and response to our Holiday Meals for Military program and the messages and comments we receive about ways to reach out and help military and veteran families during the holidays. But, mostly we know this to be true because this is just what the military and veteran community does.

They look out for each other. They give each other strength.

This Thanksgiving, we are thankful for the opportunity to serve, for the chance to fill a need, whether it be a boost of encouragement or the relief of a burden. We invite you to express your thanks and gratitude. We all have friends, family, loved ones or neighbors who are serving or have served. Join us in giving strength by honoring and recognizing our military and their families through our #GivingStrength initiative. Here are some ideas:

  • Submit your personal stories for a chance to be featured on “Operation Homefront Strong Families” or our “Thank Military” Thursdays.
  • Email your Message of Thanks to info@operationhomefront.net or post a photo of a service member, veteran or military family member you know with their name, branch of service and when they served on the Operation Homefront Facebook page with #GivingStrength.
  • Support a current need of families who have reached out to us for help. This time of year, we see a dramatic increase in requests for assistance. Any amount you can contribute goes directly to helping a struggling military, transitioning or wounded warrior family.
  • Serve. Sign-up today to be an Operation Homefront volunteer to support military families in your area throughout the year.

Go to www.operationhomefront.net/givingstrength  to see ways YOU can be #GivingStrength and doing your part for military families in your community and around the country.

Happy Thanksgiving from the Operation Homefront family!

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Guest blog, Nate Richards, 2012 Navy Military Child of the Year, age 12

This military kid is not crazy about dealing with the holidays. Now don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas and New Year’s! Lots of nice people and “Good Cheer.”

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According to Nate (far right, front), military kids can’t always have the traditional Christmas but with a little ingenuity their families can still be together and celebrate.

But when you’re a military kid it can be tough. Your parent can be deployed or one or more of your brothers won’t be home because of leave or deployment. It can be really challenging to get in the spirit.

So, my family has come up with some “awesometacullar” ways of still having traditions, not your normal ones but they are Richards’ military family ones. FYI, these are traditions that can usually change from year to year (Haha).

My favorite part about Christmas when I was little, was having everyone home to decorate the tree and have hot chocolate while listening to really old Christmas music. My older brothers are a bunch of comedians. So, it was always loud and lots of laughter. I think being a military kid taught me that you can still celebrate and be jolly even if things aren’t the way you remember or want them to be.

Our family has many new traditions when it comes to Christmas. We get our iPads and phones into the living room and then FaceTime whichever brothers can’t be home. We turn on the Christmas music LOUD so they can hear it.

We still make hot chocolate and then Isabelle and I become the ornament runners. Bubbu says put that one on the top left, Max will say put mine by John’s. Charlie is usually cracking jokes about something and the fact that he is on Santa’s naughty list.

Last year, My Dada got to watch us open our present from Santa via Skype. We made an awesome care package for My Dada. It had a small tree and Isabelle made Christmas ornaments. She also made some cookies for him.

That was how the traditions started for 2013 and 2014. This year, we will figure out how it will roll in the Richards’ house for 2015. We know already one brother is on deployment standby and another is in Navy A school too far away to come home. So it looks like the elf ornament runners will get another shot at decorating the tree via iPad (Hahaha).  Who knows what other new traditions will be started. I am pretty sure some of you have pretty unique ways of celebrating too. I hope you post them and maybe for all the kids that will not be together with their families, they can learn a new idea and start a new holiday tradition in their house.

I am really lucky to be a military kid that has so many brothers that serve as well as my Dada. We can’t always have the traditional Christmas but with a little ingenuity we can still be together and celebrate. No Black Friday shopping for us, or being sad. Just a day to figure out new ways to celebrate together.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

Nate the Great

 

Nominations are being accepted for the 2016 Military Child of the Year award through December 11, 2015, 11:45pm CST. Nominations may be made by parents, other family members, teachers, counselors, coaches, community officials, church leaders, neighbors and others. For more information, visit www.militarychildoftheyear.org.

 

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Tgiving 2015

As we all gather to celebrate Thanksgiving this week, we want to take a moment to share words of thanks from our families:

“Thank you for your generosity, it means so much for military families to receive gifts from those who care about those of us who serve our country!!” Marc, California.

“We really just wanted to say a tremendous heartfelt thank you for all you have done to help us … We can never thank you or Operation Homefront enough, you helped to set our mind at ease through this whole process and for the first time in over a month we can rest easy knowing our family will be safe and comfortable … thanks to all of your efforts.” –Crystal and David, Virginia.

“Being in the military for over 22 years I missed a lot of family time. I don’t think I’ve ever been home to celebrate one of my 18-year-old daughter’s birthdays with her. So when an organization such as yours gives these opportunities to be with our families it is always a special time for us. (Our) family thanks you for the gifts and special day. We look forward to several more of those cherished family days that we missed out on over the years. God bless and thank you.” Tim, West Virginia.

“I’m just heartened to see veterans getting the chances to try to live out their lives in peace and without the stress of worry. Keep up the good work!” Raven, Tennessee.

“Operation Homefront is a blessing for all of us wounded veterans. My wife and I (were) unbelievably blessed to be expecting identical twin boys. Just when I then shock wore off and financial burden rose, Operation Homefront blessed us with an amazing baby shower to prepare us for the road ahead. Every bit counts, and we cannot ever thank you all enough!” Joseph.

“I just wanted to thank you for the incredible help you and your organization provided my family. I am positive we would have suffered so much distress without the compassion and aid extended to us. I really can’t put to words just how grateful we all are … know that you have made a real difference in our lives and we will never forget.” Rachel.

“You never gave up on us and we will be forever grateful to you and Operation Homefront for helping us with our home. Thank you so much for everything you have done … you’re an angel.” -Lisa, Virginia.

“Thank you again. A huge stress has been lifted off of my shoulders. I cried when we got off the phone. It is so amazing to talk to caring people who want to help. What you did for me and my son means more than you know. Have an awesome Christmas and New Year.” –Michelle, Florida.

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The Operation Homefront family wishes to express our heartfelt thanks to our community, donors and partners who help us share our nation’s gratitude with our men and women in uniform when they need it the most. If you would like to help these families during the holiday season, when their needs are often the greatest, please consider a donation or helping with one of our Current Needs.

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

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