By Rebecca Alwine, Army Spouse
Did you know there are over 45,000 nonprofits supporting the military community? What do they all have in common? A love for the military community.
This holiday season we’ve put together our top eight ways that you can support military service members and their families. Many of these are national organizations which also operate at a local level. Consider spreading some holiday cheer to military families this year.
For those who shop at any of The Exchange locations, you may have already noticed a gift table set up. Sometimes it is called an Angel Giving Tree, and the goal is to make sure all children receive a gift from their parents over the holidays, regardless of their financial situation. This is one of my favorite ways to inspire giving in my family. Each year, we choose children the same age/gender of my children, and then they shop for them. They always marvel at how the things on the list include basic needs like sneakers, and they love adding extra toys that will bring a smile to the other children’s faces. The program is usually run through the chaplain or family services.
If you’ve ever traveled by plane over the holidays, you’ve seen service members traveling as well. Some of the airports close to training installations seem as though they’ve been overtaken by service members waiting for flights. These airport USO’s become crowded quickly and can always use extra hands. Consider volunteering at your local USO this holiday travel season. And make sure you’re the favorite volunteer by arming yourself with homemade goodies to distribute.
Wreaths Across America
Each year Wreaths Across America sets out with a goal to put a wreath on every headstone at over 1,200 locations throughout the world. The organization sets out each year to remember the lives of these veterans, and also to thank them, once again, for their service. At ceremonies around the world in December, volunteers of all ages and backgrounds will place wreaths on the gravesites. To show your support, consider donating a wreath. You can also donate in memory of your veteran. You may also consider volunteering your time to help place wreaths.
Trees for Troops
Every year since 2005 the Christmas Spirit Foundation, together with FedEx provides trees for service members. They are donated by American tree farmers and families throughout the country and have provided over 191,000 free, farm-grown Christmas trees. This program also extends overseas. The trees are distributed in early December at military installations worldwide, often accompanied by a note from the family or farm who donated it.
Provide a Holiday Meal
Most military families find it hard to travel over the holidays, which can also put a damper on plans. For younger families or those who have always lived far from family, they may also find themselves struggling to create their own holiday traditions. Operation Homefront celebrates military families with Holiday Meals each year. Since 2008, this program has served almost 70,000 families, and it’s easy to get involved. You can volunteer or donate through Operation Homefront or you can participate in programs on the local installation. You can also buy groceries for a family at Walmart if you’d prefer.
Don’t forget National Guard families
Some of the organizations who support military families extend their programs to include the families of National Guard and Reserve service members. If you are looking to support local National Guard families, reach out to a local VFW or American Legion. These organizations are supporters of local National Guard bases. You can usually find contact information for National Guard family readiness online as well.
Another great way to support military families is to shop at a local veteran or military spouse owned business. From Small Business Saturday to Giving Tuesday, there are plenty of options for purchasing from a veteran or military spouse owned business. Check out our holiday gift guide for some ideas.
Pay it Forward
And when it’s all said and done, and the decorations come down, consider donating the stuff you don’t need, want, or can’t take with you to a local organization. One example is the Southeast Arizona based non-profit, A Tree 4 Christmas. They give away artificial trees, complete with decorations, to local families who don’t have the money to buy their own.
Enjoy your holiday season and thank you for supporting our troops and their families.
You can also pay it forward by leaving a base housing or neighborhood review at PCSgrades.com, a review platform for military and veteran families. Leave a review of your prior duty station and read the reviews of where you are PCSing to. Home is where the military sends us and together we can make a difference!
Rebecca Alwine is a freelance writer, army wife, and mother of three. Her writing experience includes military family topics, research pieces, guest blogging, and much more. She’s a contributing writer for ARMY Magazine, a regular contributor for several publications including to Homefront United Network, PCSgrades, ESME, and has also been published in Ms. Magazine and The Atlantic.