America Supports You: Anyone Can Play Santa to Troops in Iraq
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 16, 2007 A Utah-based troop-support group is providing anyone who wants it the opportunity to play Santa Claus to troops serving in Iraq through the holidays.
Paul Holton, founder of Operation Give, sifts through donations received for the 2006 “Operation Christmas Stocking” project at the program's warehouse in Salt Lake City. Items will be sent from the warehouse to troops stationed in Iraq in time for the holidays. Last year’s program reached servicemembers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Courtesy photo by Operation Give
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Those interested in brightening the day of a servicemember stationed far from home this holiday season can participate in Operation Give’s “Operation Christmas Stocking,” said Paul Holton, the group’s founder and a Utah National Guardsman.
“I spent 14 months in Iraq. I went through the holidays there,” Holton said of his tour that began in 2003. “We had a group of people that kind of adopted our group and sent us a Christmas tree with lights and presents and stockings.
“It was such a morale boost that I vowed that I would do whatever I could to … make sure that as many (servicemembers) as possible get a stocking (so) that they know that we haven’t forgotten about them,” he said.
Operation Give is a supporter of America Supports You, a Defense Department program connecting citizens and corporations with military personnel and their families serving at home and abroad.
Last year, Operation Give sent more than 50,000 pounds of stockings to U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Holton, also known as “Chief Wiggles.” He expects to send about the same amount this year.
Civil affairs units in Baghdad will receive the shipment and help with distribution.
Stockings can be purchased or homemade, Holton said, adding that gift bags or boxes also are acceptable. Those wishing to participate in the project can fill their container-of-choice with items from a suggestion list that appears on the Operation Give Web site. The list includes personal hygiene, comfort and entertainment items as well as snack foods.
Toys for troops to hand out to the local children also are appropriate. “(This) … will bring smiles to both the children and our troops,” Holton said.
He also suggested including name and contact information – either a snail mail or e-mail address – so recipients can contact the senders if they so choose.
Participating in this year’s Operation Christmas Stocking is easy no matter where donors live, Holton said. Federal Express is offering free shipping from anywhere in the United States to Operation Give’s Salt Lake City warehouse, Holton said. To take advantage of this offer however, donors must contact Holton at (801) 259-6336 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The shipping address is: Operation Give c/o Million Air Cargo, 430 N. 3700 W., Salt Lake City, Utah 84122
In addition to donated goods, monetary donations to help cover the cost of shipping the stockings, which will travel in 40-foot containers via ship, are welcome.
“We’re asking for individuals or corporations to help in paying some of the shipping costs,” Holton said. “Each container costs us about $5,000 (to ship.)”
All stockings need to be at the Operation Give warehouse by Nov. 1 to arrive in Baghdad by Christmas.