Across Cape May County,nearly 600 Coast Guard recruits spent this past Christmas Day and Thanksgiving with more than 150 host families and community organizations for holiday festivities.
Operation Fireside provides recruits from the Coast Guard Training Center in Cape May with a place to call home on Thanksgiving and/or Christmas Day. The recruits, who are away from home during the Coast Guard’s eight-week basic training, are matched by the Red Cross and the Coast Guard with local families who are willing to open their homes to recruits during the holidays.
“Operation Fireside was a nice mental break,” said former Coast Guard member Kathleen Dillon, recalling her participation with Operation Fireside while she was a recruit. “It helped me feel part of the community and gave me the motivation to finish basic training.”
For more than 40 years, Cape May area families and local organizations have welcomed the recruits, with many continuing the tradition year after year. The program looked different during the pandemic, with generously donated desserts being provided to the recruits while they remained at the Training Center on the holidays.
Operation Fireside is back in full force this year and the opportunity was opened to families wishing to participate. Many applied for the opportunity. All host families must live within 50 miles or within a 60-minute drive (whichever comes first) of the Coast Guard Training Center at One Munro Avenue in Cape May. Host families were added on a first-come, first-served basis. Those who applied and met the criteria were matched with recruits for the holidays.
“We’re honored to work alongside the Coast Guard with Operation Fireside all these years,” said Nicole Runyon, regional manager, Service to the Armed Forces, American Red Cross New Jersey Region. “Approximately 300 recruits are placed each holiday with nearly 100 generous Cape May area families who warmly welcome the recruits with a holiday meal and the comforts of home.”
Coordination of Operation Fireside is led by two of our incredibly dedicated Red Cross volunteers – Ken and Linda Ballan – whose work is greatly appreciated.