By Ken Porter, Navy veteran 3rd Class Petty Officer
My first holiday on active duty away from my family was Thanksgiving. On holidays the galley usually shortens its hours and moves up the time for meal service, so kitchen staff can get home to their families. As a young sailor I didn’t know this and came strolling up to the galley as normal to find the doors locked, with installation staff in the back cleaning up the kitchen.
I ended up wandering around a while searching for food until I remembered the recreation center was open and had snacks. I bought two microwavable chimichangas and attempted to Skype friends over the center’s intermittent Wi-Fi connection. I not only missed Thanksgiving dinner, but I also missed my family.
Despite how sad that story is, I was so happy once I tracked down those chimichangas. They were a small comfort during that experience. Those small comforts during the holiday season are why Operation Santa exists.
Operation Santa sends care package holiday stockings to over 20,000 servicemen and women serving overseas during the holiday season.
One of the places Operation Santa takes place is at Illinois State University where our guest Dylan Williamson participated in the program as a graduate student.
“It creates an opportunity for folks like me who haven’t served, to meet folks like you who have. It’s difficult for folks like us who haven’t served to understand what you’re even going through, and something like Operation Santa provides that opportunity. I used to be a community organizer and I had to go into places like the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) to talk to people. Most people don’t get to have that experience,” Williamson said.
Many service members are serving in locations where they have limited access to resources and having a bag of jerky on a night you are standing watch away from your family during the holidays goes a long way. Many service members don’t have any family at all, and these stockings and cards let them know that people are thinking about them back home, regardless.
Needed items include holiday greeting and thank-you cards, athletic socks, black boot socks, beef jerky, lip balm, small game books, deodorant, and USB drives. More items can be found on the OS website. People can also help by sewing stockings, writing Christmas cards, collecting stocking stuffers and by helping stuff stockings in October and November.
Cash donations are also appreciated, as it becomes quite expensive to send over 20,000 stockings overseas in time for the holiday season.
Those interested in donating to Operation Santa or volunteering time to stuff stockings closer to the holiday season can email Ken Porter at [email protected].
Join Cliff Kelley and Ken Porter on the America’s Heroes Group radio talk show “We Serve the World: Millennial Veterans in Action” on Saturday, July 20 at 5 p.m. CST.