This year while families are celebrating the special season with their loved ones, many military families across the globe will be separated. The holidays can magnify this separation and be especially hard on our deployed service members, their families, injured veterans and their caregivers. That is why the American Red Cross provides local holiday programs to meet the specific needs of military and veteran communities.
HOLIDAYS FOR HEROES
The American Red Cross has annually supported deployed U.S. service members through the previously titled, "Holiday Mail for Heroes" program. People across the country can write letters and send them to the Red Cross for mailing to deployed troops. The Red Cross found that there were also soldiers and veterans in local communities that had immediate needs for the holidays. That is why the program was expanded to "Holidays for Heroes." Now, in addition to letters, the American public can support these communities in a variety of ways. This enables people to give local support to someone in their own region.
LOCAL PROGRAMS, LOCAL SOLUTIONS
The hallmark of the Red Cross Holidays for Heroes programs is that they are catered to meet the specific needs of the Armed Forces community. An amazing highlight is the participation of volunteers coming together to celebrate and lend a helping hand to their local heroes. Across America, people are coming together to celebrate the season and their troop's service.
Take, for example, the Ventura family. Juan and Kimberly Ventura are spending their first Christmas at Fort Knox in Kentucky, where Juan is stationed – far from their family and home in San Diego. With family or friends on the other side of the country and worries about the surge of the pandemic, this Christmas was shaping up to be especially hard. As a military spouse, Kimberly hasn't been able to find work. Hiring freezes during 2020 have made this particularly hard. Surviving on a single service member's income, the Ventura family were afraid they would need to cancel Christmas for their two young girls this year.
"I have a lot of friends from all over the country and they are in the same situation as us," said Ventura. "We're all here without our families and without our friends. No support system."
That's when the Red Cross came in. Through an on-base program called Santa's Village, the family was able to safely pick out gifts for their children. They are so excited that Christmas is not canceled, and their girls will be able to enjoy the magic of the holiday. Kimberly shares, "It's really comforting having this type of support system from the Red Cross. We really do appreciate all of the help we've been getting. I think it's a huge benefit to everyone in the military."
CHRISTMAS PROGRAMS A PLENTY
Below are a few examples of programs happening across the country:
North Carolina – The "Adopt a Family" program helps military families in need of financial support to provide for their families during the holidays. Military families in-need send a Christmas gift wish list they would buy if they could. The Red Cross then connects donors with the family's list to help purchase these presents. Gifts are wrapped and delivered before Christmas to the families.
California – The Red Cross partners with the Los Angeles Veterans’ Administration to help feed more than 150 veterans for Christmas. Through local youth clubs, hygiene supplies will be provided to local homeless veterans, and holiday gifts provided through the Red Cross Women Veterans Program.
Pennsylvania - Through a program called Totes of Hope, totes are provided to veterans. These bags contain items like hygiene products, bottled water, a poncho, activity books and other care items to ensure that their basic needs do not go unmet.
Missouri/Arkansas – To help support the local VA hospitals, more than 100 brand new winter coats and masks, winter hats, gloves, comfort care and recreational therapy items were delivered to support in-patient veterans housed in the addictions and substance abuse programs.
Florida – Teams packed more than 1,200 care packages in the form of fully stuffed hand-sewn holiday stockings. These much-needed care packages include essential and non-essential items. They were shipped to support deployed troops in Iraq, Kuwait, Djibouti, Poland and Romania.
CHRISTMAS IN 2020
COVID-19 is defining this year's holiday celebration in a way that is unrecognizable to many, including our U.S. military. Our service members have been on the frontlines throughout this global pandemic, and as a result, are experiencing many challenges. This holiday season, the American Red Cross is helping military and veteran communities where they need it most. The Red Cross is meeting the immediate needs of these families while providing warmth and cheer. The Red Cross is proud to strengthen these communities that serve as the backbone of our country. If you'd like to help support your local military and veteran communities, contact your local Red Cross and visit redcross.org/saf to learn more about Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces.