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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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By Emily Schmid
Director, Walmart Digital Communications
November 11, 2016
(reprinted with permission. Original article can be found here.)

Twelve years ago, Michael del Rosario was a Captain in the U.S. Army looking to make the transition back to civilian life. He loved the military, but wanted to focus on starting a new chapter with his family.

An officer with years of experience, Michael had no shortage of job prospects in the private sector and it wasn’t long before he had a decision to make. But after a series of interviews with Walmart, Michael knew he had found the perfect place.

So in 2004, Michael began his new career as an Operations Manager in Tobyhannah, Pennsylvania. It was a big change at first, but the support from his fellow associates helped.

“There were some prior service veterans that I had the good fortune to be reporting to, and they would sit down with me and make me feel that I had all the time in the world to talk about any of the struggles that we all have,” he said.

Drawing on his military leadership experience, Michael brought a unique perspective to his new role. Today, he is General Transportation Manager at a Walmart distribution center in Woodland, Pennsylvania, where he oversees everything from maintenance of vehicles to the safety department that ensures the well-being of his team.

Once he finally felt established in his new life as a private citizen, Michael started thinking about how to give back.

“I figured it was my turn to reach backwards and pull somebody else up,” he said.

So he volunteered to join the Walmart Foundation State Advisory Council, which is comprised of managers across each state who help support local communities. Once onboard, he noticed that despite the strong veteran presence in Pennsylvania, no veterans’ organizations were applying for grants. That’s when he found Operation Homefront, an organization that provides financial assistance to military families and veterans.

He brought the organization to the council’s attention, and soon Michael was off to deliver a check himself. He and the organization’s regional director instantly connected over their shared passion. So well, in fact, that before he left that day, the director asked Michael to join Operation Homefront’s advisory board.

Ever since, Michael has made it his mission to make a difference in the lives of military families. Last year, Michael received the Walmart Logistics Community Champion Award for his work with Operation Homefront, which under his leadership, coordinated the efforts of more than 170 volunteers, 6,500 volunteer hours, and fundraising efforts that raised more than $350,000 for veterans in 2015.

Through his work with Operation Homefront, Michael also began working with Penn State University’s Military Appreciation Committee. Together they organize events like Seats for Service Members, which donates free Penn State football tickets to military families. Every year at a Military Appreciation Day football game, Michael assembles the volunteer forces of Operation Homefront, Walmart, and Penn State to throw a massive cookout for current and active service members and their families.

Earlier this month, 500 Walmart volunteers converged on State College to serve food to nearly 10,000 military families before the game.

“It’s just great to be able to show them that we have their backs, and that we haven’t forgotten what they’ve been through, and most of all, that we truly appreciate what they’ve done for our country,” he said.

Michael has received multiple honors for his support for veterans, but he’ll be the first to tell you that the recognition is the result of the teamwork from his fellow Walmart volunteers.

“It’s not just me,” he insisted. “It’s the teammates I’ve got around me.”

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In the weeks before Christmas, throughout this great land.

Our elves on the homefront were lending a hand…

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Holiday Meals were bagged up and stuffed

To give to the families we can’t thank enough…

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Wishes were granted and moments were shared

Letting military families know that all of us cared… 

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The smiles of the families and joy that abounded

Reminded us all of the mission we founded…

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To remember the many who serve so we remain free

Who won’t be home this year to decorate their tree… 

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We hope you are home soon and with loved ones so dear,

Merry Christmas to all, and a Happy New Year!

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Thank you for helping Operation Homefront build strong, stable, and secure military families – all year long.

Special thanks this year to

Dollar Tree, Walmart, BeamSuntory, Amazon, CDW, Loves Travel Stops and Country Store,

Thirty-One, Ocean Spray, Navy Federal Credit Union, Samuel Adams, RetailMeNot.

 

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The best gift at the holidays is to be surrounded by family and friends. In many ways, our military is one big family, and we are grateful to have some small part in making the holidays special for them. This year, we were able to bring joy to hundreds of military families at our Holiday Toy Drive and Holiday Meals for Military events across the country.

Like us, we hope that by the end of this blog, you will believe in the magic of Christmas and the spirit of the season and the special ties that bind the military community together:

Things may be humming ‘round the clock at the North Pole, but Santa is a huge fan of our military families, and makes sure to visit as many of our holiday events as he can.’

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We are pretty sure that this was actually Santa who swung by to hang out with our military and our Nevada Field Office.

What a gift it is to be able to feel the joy and wonder of the season through the eyes of children

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Baby’s First Christmas!

 

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Future Hall of Famer.

 

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Definitely on the nice list.

 

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That moment when a child meets Santa…magic. (picture from PhillyDotCom of our PA/DE/NJ Field Office event)

 

 

Even the big ones

 

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Self proclaimed “toy tester”…riiiiight.

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Aloha!

 

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Gingerbread aprons bring the kid out in all of us.

We’d bet our volunteers would give any veteran elf a run for their money. Along with the joy of meeting so many of our military families, our holiday events give us the opportunity to see up front and personal all of the good in the world. They are the living testament to “be the light or the mirror that reflects it”.

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Team Depot supports our mission in so many ways, and bring the fun whenever they volunteer.

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Terrific group of ladies from Wells Faro who have partnered with us in our Homes on the Homefront program, awarding mortgage free home to our military and veteran families.

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Walmart is contributed cash and in-kind donations worth $250,000 to the 2014 Holiday Meals for Military program and Walmart associates also offered their help to package holiday meal kits. Here, they are visiting with our Carolinas Field Office and soldiers at Ft Bragg

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Who needs snow when you have palm trees and spirit? (w/ our Florida Field Office)

 

Without the support of so many generous supporters throughout the year, we would not be able to have the impact we do on our military families. And as we look forward to 2015, we know that while our mission will continue to be critical for many years to come, with your support, we will always be there to answer the call.

The staff, volunteers and families of Operation Homefront wish you all a holiday season full of light, laughter and love.

 Merry Christmas to all…

And to all, a good night!

All tuckered out in California.

All tuckered out in California.

If you would like to answer the call of our military and their families when they need it the most visit

Answer The Call

or learn about some of the families we are currently helping at

Current Needs

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givingtuesday-2“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

― Mother Teresa

Hang around the non- profit community long enough and you are sure to see a quote like this posted to a desk or on a social media page. Themes of Love, Service, Purpose. Quotes from famous people, scripture, letters from those touched by and had lives changed by the mission.

It’s easy to dismiss them as simple motivational tools, especially when it seems that needs are overwhelming and resources always scarce.  But there is a deeper reason why these phrases are common and enduring.

They are true.

There is a joy in giving, in lifting another up, in showing someone the goodness in others and themselves, at times when they can’t see a way through.

Today, on #GivingTuesday, charities, families, businesses, community centers, students and more will come together with one focus. Join in and be a part of a national movement of generosity. Whether it’s our mission or community food programs or clean water or curing disease, you can make a difference.  Here are some easy ways you can get involved on #GivingTuesday and throughout the year in Operation Homefront’s mission to support our nation’s military, veterans and wounded warrior families.

Make Some Noise. Tweet tweet! Our wonderful partners at the Home Depot Foundation are donating a dollar a tweet using #TeamDepot to @HomeDepotFdn  from Dec 3 until Dec. 31.  You’ll not only raise much needed funds (up to $100,000!), but also awareness of the challenges of our military families and wounded warriors. Follow us on Twitter at @Op_Homefront.

Click and Give.  Once again, Operation Homefront is honored to have been selected as one of 10 charities to receive a portion of a $200,000 gift from the CDW Corporation.  For a mouse click, you can help raise funds for our mission. Voting is open from now until Jan. 3,2014, and you can vote daily.

Don an Elf Hat and Donate a Toy for a Military Family: Between now and Dec. 6, you can donate a toy for our Holiday Toy Drive.  Toys will be distributed nationwide in the coming weeks at bases and towns across the country.

Encourage A Child: We all know them…the youngest patriots who didn’t choose to serve but make sacrifices of their own as part of a military family. They endure multiple moves, separations from loved ones and so much more on behalf of all of America’s kids. Take a moment and nominate a military kid to be considered for our Military Child of the Year award.  Just by being nominated, they will receive a certificate of appreciation from us.

Volunteer: Many of our events, such as Holiday Meals for Military and our Toy Drives, along with Back to School Brigade and other programs throughout the year rely on our community of volunteers to make it happen.  Connect up with your local Field Office to see how you can get involved in supporting military families in your community and other ways to get involved in our mission.

Support One of Our Current Needs: Emergency assistance requests have hit an all-time high this year, and it is only through the generous support of individuals, businesses and organizations that we are able to provide a measure of comfort and hope to those who have sacrificed so much for our freedoms.  We regularly post ongoing and current needs on our website.

Raise Awareness: Learn more about How We Help and our areas of focus: Relief, Recovery and Recognition.  Getting the word out that help is available and where to go will ensure that our military families and wounded warriors can focus on their missions and challenges.

Are you taking part in a #GivingTuesday event in your area?  Share in the comments.

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Official Sponsor of Holiday Hugs!

Official Sponsor of Holiday Hugs!

“IM COMING HOME!!!!”

“Going to NY & surprising my parents!”

Are you an active duty service member trying to figure out how to get home for the holidays?  Then you will DEFINITELY want to read on…

Operation Homefront through support from Walmart is pleased to bring active duty Service Members Home for the Holidays!  Active duty Service Members are invited to apply for travel dates between December 1, 2013-January 5, 2014.

Applications for Home for the Holidays will be accepted through November 1.  OH reserves the right to close the application site earlier if all tickets are distributed.

  • CONTINENTAL 48    OH will fly 450 Service Members Home for the Holidays.  Service Members may apply to fly home to visit immediate family and/or legal military dependents.
  • HAWAII, ALASKA & OVERSEAS    OH will fly 50 Service Members from Hawaii, Alaska or overseas locations to the continental 48 states to be Home for the Holidays.

Click here for Requirements, Rules and Restrictions and to apply.

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