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America Supports You: Group Links GIs to Families for Holidays

By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 14, 2005 – This holiday season, military members serving overseas will have a chance to send their love to their families in a very special way, thanks to a Denver-based nonprofit organization.

Operation Hope, a program started two and a half years ago by the Beacon of Hope Outreach Center, is launching a service called Home for the Holidays. This service allows military men and women serving overseas to register their families for gifts, said Leo Pacheco, president and executive director of Beacon of Hope Outreach Center.

Servicemembers can register their families via the Operation Hope Web site, and their children's names will then be put on a giving tree under a partnership with Toys R' Us and Amazon.com, Pacheco said. The gifts will be purchased and donated by other people, and Operation Hope will ship them to the families as a gift from the servicemember, he said. A special gift basket will be shipped to the spouse along with the presents, he added.

Included in the package will be a disposable camera for the family to use to record the holiday, Pacheco said. When the camera is full, Operation Hope will develop the pictures and send them to the servicemember, he said.

The Home for the Holidays service was designed to help support military families and make the stressful times of deployments a little easier, Pacheco said.

"We know that it's a very difficult thing when you are deployed and separated from your family," he said.

Operation Hope provides many other services to military members and their families. It was originally started as a program to send care packages to military members, Pacheco said, but it has now expanded and added other services.

Operation Hope gives aid and support to military families in the form of food, clothing, toys and other things, Pacheco said. The organization still sends care packages as well. There are about 450 servicemembers whom Operation Hope has adopted, he said, and they receive packages and letters on a regular basis.

Volunteers are the driving force behind Operation Hope, Pacheco said. Most are from the Denver area, but schools, churches and other groups across the country have helped the organization by conducting drives to collect items for care packages, he said. The supportive response from civilians has been a very pleasant surprise for him, he said.

"I think the most amazing thing, that we did not expect, is how very supportive civilians are across the United States," he said. "I think one of the messages that they have all wanted to express the most is how very supportive we are of our military and that's why they do this."

Operation Hope is a member of America Supports You, a nationwide program launched by the Defense Department to recognize citizens' support for our military men and women and communicate that support to members of the armed forces at home and abroad. Pacheco said he heard about America Supports You from other nonprofit organizations and had to join because of the network it provides for groups with similar goals.

"The great thing is, they're linking all of us together and making it possible for families and members of the military to have access to all of the programs that are out there," he said.

People can contribute to Operation Hope in a number of ways, Pacheco said. Financial contributions are always accepted, as are donations of items for care packages. People can also volunteer their time or conduct drives to collect donations, he said.

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Related Sites:
Operation Hope
America Supports You

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