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'Gift of Groceries' Offers Unique Way to Celebrate Season

By Bonnie Powell
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORT LEE, Va., Nov. 30, 2004 – Anyone can show support for military families this holiday season with a "Gift of Groceries."

"Whether it's for a national or installation charity, families of deployed servicemembers, or simply as a gift for your neighbor, the general public can help support military families with commissary gift certificates," said Patrick B. Nixon, acting director and chief executive officer of the Defense Commissary Agency. "Since the program began in the fall of 2002, nearly $5 million in commissary gift certificates has been given as gifts or donated to military families."

During the holidays in particular, gift certificates have proven to be handy for food- basket programs by allowing recipients to purchase the groceries they need and prefer, rather than getting food items they might not use. "And since commissaries sell food at cost, military families save an average of 30 percent or more by using their commissary benefit," said Nixon. "That's critical for families on a tight budget at the holidays or any time of the year."

The public can also donate gift certificates to worldwide organizations that assist military families such as the United Services Organization, service aid societies, and Fisher House Foundation. Since the Gift of Groceries program began, nearly $130,000 has been donated to those specific charities.

"The commissary gift certificates are obviously appreciated and used by families staying at Fisher Houses worldwide," said Jim Weiskopf, vice president of communications for Fisher House Foundation. Fisher Houses are comfort homes located near military medical facilities. "Most donated certificates are being used to buy groceries for families staying at our homes while their loved ones recover from injuries sustained in Afghanistan or Iraq."

The Gift of Groceries program is made possible through a business agreement with CertifiChecks Inc. at no cost to DeCA or the federal government. The program allows anyone to purchase commissary gift certificates through a link at on the Defense Commissary Agency's Web site or by calling toll free (877) 770-GIFT. The certificates can be given as gifts or donated, but only authorized commissary shoppers can spend them. A standard charge of $4.95, paid by the purchaser, covers the costs of handling, printing and mailing. Additional charges may apply for large orders or special delivery.

Gift certificates in $25 denominations are now available in all 273 commissaries worldwide. The availability of gift certificates in stores is intended as a customer convenience, filling the need for a last-minute gift, officials said. A handling fee of $1 per $25 certificate offsets printing, shipping and handling costs, and only cash or checks are accepted to pay for gift certificates at a commissary customer service office.

(Bonnie Powell is assigned to the Defense Commissary Agency.)

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