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"Gift of Groceries" Can Help Military Families

By Bonnie J. Powell
National Guard Bureau

FORT LEE, Va., March 12, 2003 – Deployments are on the rise, Guard and Reserve personnel are being activated by the thousands, and the upheaval in the lives of military families can involve economic needs as well as emotional.

Sometimes the need is long term, such as the loss of a higher- paying civilian paycheck. And sometimes the need is temporary, such as a deployment that takes place before family finances are in order.

More than ever, average Americans are jumping in to help military families with donated services, money -- and now groceries, through the "Gift of Groceries" program.

The Defense Commissary Agency began selling gift certificates last fall as a customer service, but that program has evolved into more, agency officials said. Individuals and groups have been buying certificates and then donating them to charitable groups that filter the gift checks to military families in need.

The program, created through a business agreement with CertifiChecks Inc., allows anyone to purchase commissary gift certificates via the DeCA Web site at www.commissaries.com, or by calling a toll-free U.S.-only number, 1-877-770-4438. Certificates are good in any of DeCA's 280 stores worldwide -- only authorized commissary shoppers can redeem them.

"Gift of Groceries" donors can choose to forward their gift to one of three charitable groups currently participating: the Air Force Aid Society, the Fisher House Foundation, and United Services Organization. They also may take delivery and give them to local groups or military friends and families.

"We want to support military families through Operation Homefront. We heard they were accepting grocery certificates, so we thought since it was for the military, why not?" said Linda Jo Reynolds, assistant to Pastor Leo Giovinetti at Mission Valley Christian Fellowship in the San Diego area. The fellowship donated $25,000 to Operation Homefront, a program spearheaded by radio station KOGO and Cinchouse, a local nonprofit organization of military spouses.

"You would need about $35,000 to purchase an equivalent amount of groceries at a retail store," said DeCA Deputy Director Patrick B. Nixon. "That kind of additional purchasing power is what the commissary benefit is all about for military families."

Fisher House Foundation was recently added to the list of major charities that accept certificates. The foundation operates 31 "homes away from home" to accommodate family members tending to hospitalized loved ones at major military medical facilities worldwide. Each Fisher House has a large, modern kitchen and pantry.

"Families often face additional, unexpected expenses when a relative is hospitalized," said Ken Fisher, foundation vice chairman. "Being able to provide them with commissary gift certificates will lessen their stress, enabling them to give full attention to their loved one."

"The donation of commissary gift certificates to military families has been tremendous so far," said Mike Baskerville, vice president of CertifiChecks. "Giving the 'gift of groceries' has been embraced by the public and business world alike as a wonderful way to support American men and women in the military."

"Gift of Groceries" operates at no cost to DeCA or the federal government. Certifichecks levies a standard charge that covers handling, printing and mailing of up to 20 certificates to one address. Other charges may apply for bulk orders or special deliveries.

(Bonnie J. Powell is a corporate communications specialist at the Defense Commissary Agency, Fort Lee, Va.)

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