JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska —
The Service Member and Family Assistance Center hosted the third annual Operation Homefront holiday toy distribution event at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Dec. 4.
More than 400 people were on hand at the event which saw hundreds of brand new toys given out to the children of military families who signed up weeks in advance.
"We worked with several community partners to bring the community together and make this event a success," said Janice Collee, Operation Homefront Pacific Northwest director of programs. "The families registered for the event to ensure we had an appropriate count for all ages and genders to receive a toy."Toys weren't the only things bringing wide-eyed smiles to the faces of JBER's children.
"Home Depot brought a kids clinic to set up for the children to make a project to take home with them," Collee said. "We also had Hank the Moose available for the families to get their pictures taken. Santa was there, and the children were definitely excited. We had a gift wrap station so the families didn't have to worry about wrapping their gifts at home. We also had food provided by the base security forces personnel. Additionally, the Armed Forces YMCA was a partner with us for the first time."
Gloria Schiers, wife of Staff Sgt. Nathan Schiers, 962d Airborne Air Control Squadron communications systems operator, brought their daughter Kambryn, 3, to the event and was impressed with everything the organizers put together.
"It's an amazing experience just to be able to be here, especially for people who maybe can't do much. Seeing the kids' faces light up is what it's all about."Organizers began putting the event together in August to allow time for donors to contribute and time for families to sign up for reserved attendance slots, which fill up rapidly after they're announced, according to Collee.
"The event was a huge success for the families," Colle said. "Anytime you can bring community partners together and families in the community to help build strong military families it is a success. We had huge support from the command at JBER as well. It shows the comradery of this community and the support the families have from the local community."
Operation Homefront's mission is to help build strong, stable military families through family and emergency assistance programs. More than $7,000 worth of toys were given out to JBER's children through the toy distribution program.
Maria Vazqueze, wife of Bryan Vazqueze, 4th Quartermaster Company, 725th Brigade Support Battalion (Airborne), 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division rigger, was excited to bring their daughter, Angelique, 2, to pick out a toy.
"It's awesome," Vazqueze said. "It makes us a more tight-knit family and community. It's great to be able to have these types of resources. It demonstrates how supportive the local community is of military families."
According to Dana Rosso, 673d Air Base Wing Public Affairs community engagement chief, the event highlighted the positive relationship the base has with Anchorage.
"We have a multitude of internal programs here at JBER designed to help us reach out and support the local community," Rosso said. "It's always great to
see the community giving back so enthusiastically."
Collee said that while the toy drive was supported primarily by local businesses, anyone can donate to Operation Homefront. People can visit www.operationhomefront.net
or call (503) 928-6794. Operation Homefront is also part of the Combined Federal Campaign.