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Making the Holidays Bright for Service Members and Veterans

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We want to make sure service members know we appreciate them and we’re thinking about them.

For nearly 130 years, the American Red Cross has provided comfort and support to members of the United States military. This holiday season, people from across the state have joined with the American Red Cross New Jersey Region in spreading some holiday cheer to members of the U.S. Armed Forces and its veterans.

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“We are grateful for all in our community who have stepped forward to help us make the holidays special for those who have served our country,” said Ana Montero, CEO, American Red Cross New Jersey Region. “Thanks to our volunteers and the support of the community, we were able to touch countless service members and veterans with a bit of ‘home away from home’ through a variety of Red Cross Holidays for Heroes programs.”

OPERATION FIRESIDE More than 30 years Operation Fireside has provided recruits from the Coast Guard Training Center in Cape May with a place to call home for the holidays. Each year the Red Cross works together with the Coast Guard to find local families who are willing to open their homes on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day to recruits who are in the Coast Guard’s 15-week basic training.

Active Coast Guard member Kathleen Dillon fondly recalled participating in Operation Fireside when she was a recruit.

“Operation Fireside was a nice mental break,” said Dillon, who is now stationed at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. “It helped me feel part of the community and gave me the motivation to finish basic training.”

This year more than 100 Cape May area families will have welcomed approximately 400 recruits with a holiday meal and the comforts of home.

ADOPT-A-UNIT Members of the American Red Cross of Northern New Jersey Board of Directors helped make the holidays a little brighter for troops this holiday season by sending Comforts of Home packages to those serving overseas.

Board members coordinated a collection of items for the troops through the Red Cross Service to Armed Forces Adopt-A-Unit Campaign and invited family members and co-workers to get involved. The collection of items includes personal care items, playing cards and puzzles, and an array of comfort foods like granola bars, pretzels, cocoa and candies.

On Saturday, December 3, Board members, their co-workers and families gathered at Verizon’s offices in Livingston to sort donated items and pack more than 150 Comforts of Home packages.

When asked why she volunteered to help pack Comforts of Home care packages early on a Saturday morning, Shaina Lewy, a volunteer from Verizon, replied, “When you think of the many men and women serving overseas protecting us and the freedom we have, we want to make sure service members know we appreciate them, we’re thinking about them and that they are missed.”

Each package was topped off with a bundle of holiday cards filled with notes of thanks and well wishes.

HOLIDAYS FOR HEROES CARDS Thousands of cards expressing encouragement and holiday cheer to military members and veterans have been collected at Red Cross offices throughout the state. Through the Red Cross Holidays for Heroes program, the cards are being sent to members of the U.S. Armed Forces serving overseas and our veterans in New Jersey this holiday season.

“I am truly touched to see how many members of our community have taken a few moments to write a note to our service members and veterans,” said Montero. “I know these heartfelt cards are going to bring many smiles and a bit of ‘home away from home’ to those who have served our country.”

PROJECT TURKEY To show appreciation for the sacrifices made by military members and their families, members of the American Red Cross Jersey Coast Board of Directors and the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters donated more than 50 turkeys and holiday baskets that were then distributed to families stationed at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.

GIVE WITH MEANING Give something that means something this holiday season and help the American Red Cross bring hope to people in some of their darkest hours. Donations to the annual Red Cross Holiday Giving Campaign help support someone who has lost everything in a disaster, a hospital patient who needs blood, or a military family facing an emergency.