While most people are making plans with friends and family, there are military members who continue to serve their country while the holiday season passes by. There are more than 160,000 active-duty members serving in 150 countries, leaving behind spouses, children, and parents to continue their duties.
It doesn’t take much to extend a thoughtful thank you to the men and women who serve our country. While you make your own holiday plans, here are simple, meaningful ways to make sure military members aren’t forgotten.
1. Sponsor a Wreath for a Fallen Soldier
Wreaths Across America is an organization that purchases and places wreathes on the graves of soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery each December, as well as veterans’ cemeteries in all 50 states and in 24 national cemeteries throughout the world.
Donors can purchase a single wreath for $15 or volunteer to help participate in wreath programs throughout the nation. In 2013, the organization’s 22nd year, 540,000 remembrance wreaths were placed on graves – about 143,000 of those at Arlington National Cemetery. More than 80 tractor-trailer companies and drivers helped deliver the wreaths to 908 locations across the country.
2. Send a Package Through Any Soldier
Army Sergeant Brian Horn was deployed to Iraq in 2003 when he called his parents, who had been sending him up to six care packages a week, and he asked for more. Horn had been giving the extra care packages to his fellow soldiers who weren’t getting any of their own.
The request sparked the idea for Any Solider after Horn’s dad created a website with his son’s deployment address and asked people to put “Attn: Any Soldier” on the package. The requests for packages were so high that within one year, Any Solider went from seven military contacts up to 3,500 contacts. Over the years, it has handed out more than a million care packages to soldiers overseas.
The website allows people to search for military officers in various countries and determine which service area they wish to send their package. Some people can even designate a box for a female soldier if some of the items are more gender-specific.
3. Sell Items to Support the United Service Organizations
Have you ever heard of charity yard sales where people clean out the attic, sell their used items, and donate the proceeds to a good cause? Well, you can do the same thing virtually to help our soldiers.
The United Service Organizations provide care to soldiers no matter where they are currently serving. The organization sends care packages to soldiers abroad, cares for them when they return, and provides services to families who have lost a loved one thanks to their dedication to our country.
You can now donate to the United Service Organizations through its Giving Works page on eBay. When you sell an item on eBay, you can select that a certain amount of the proceeds go to the charity of your choice. eBay will automatically deduct the amount and send your donation to the organization. All you have to do is start selling.
4. Send a Card Through Holiday Mail for Heroes
The American Red Cross has long been an organization that assists people in need. Recently, the organization added the Holiday Mail for Heroes program to help soldiers feel appreciated while they miss out on family experiences during deployment.
You don’t need to know anyone in the military to participate. Many local Red Cross chapters are hosting card-making parties. They will need volunteers to help sort the cards and deliver them to the appropriate mail locations.
The cards also go to veterans and the families of service members who live in your area. The Red Cross asks that you address the card generically so it could be handed out to any soldier, and that it not include gifts, photos, or money. Those items will be removed. If you have the time, volunteer at your local Red Cross to help hand out cards to veterans living in your own neighborhood. Many of these servicemen and women go unrecognized and they appreciate anyone who takes the time to note their contributions.
Thoughtful cards from someone who cares can make a big impact on soldiers and veterans. Send a thoughtful message to help them feel appreciated this holiday season.
5. Adopt a Military Family Through Soldiers’ Angels
Military families often find themselves on tight budgets during the holiday season making it tough to purchase a Christmas tree or the gifts to put under it. By becoming a Verified Angel through Soldiers’ Angels, you can help one of the more than 500 families waiting to be adopted this year.
The organization works to help these families by purchasing gifts for children. Verified Angels also can provide a grocery gift card or prepaid Visa gift card to be used as needed. Once you’ve been verified, you can find up to 12 other ways to contribute, either by participating in sewing projects, becoming part of the baking team, or adopting a service member serving abroad.
6. Send Christmas Trees to the Troops
The Christmas Spirit Foundation has been organizing Trees for Troops for the past several years to help send a little bit of Christmas to soldiers and their families. More than 17,000 trees will be delivered to homes in the United States, while more than 200 trees have already been shipped to military members overseas.
Something as simple as a Christmas tree can remind a soldier of the comforts and traditions of home. Participating Trees for Troops lots can be found through the organization’s website. At those lots, trees can be purchased and placed directly on a FedEx truck to be delivered to a nearby military base where families missing their loved ones can feel the care and appreciation of the community.
7. Send a Toy Through Little Patriots Embraced
Little Patriots Embraced is an organization adopted by the state of Missouri to reduce the emotional stress of military families during the holidays. Packages are distributed to the children of military members and include items known to reduce stress for children including teddy bears, infant blankets, soothing music, a journal, and a book that specifically addresses emotional stress for young children.
There are 1.9 million children who have parents in the military. The organization accepts donations to help create the packages for these children. Money also can be used to support financial programs to make the strain of tough times a little easier. A teddy bear toss and other programs are offered in schools throughout the state to ensure children feel connected and loved.
8. Provide a Holiday Meal Through Operation Homefront
Operation Homefront helps service members and their families throughout the year by providing financial assistance for basic needs such as groceries, home and auto repairs, medical bills, and more. These needs increase during the holidays, when families can be stretched for extra money.
Thanks to the holiday meal program through Operation Homefront, more than 8,000 meals will be distributed at 21 locations throughout the country. Volunteers are needed during this time to provide funding, a place to serve the meal and store the food, ship the items, and give of their time.
By donating to the food drive, you can be assured that a military family can celebrate the joys of the season without wondering how to pay for it.
9. Donate Prepaid Calling Cards to Troops Abroad
It can take months before families in the United States might hear from troops serving overseas. Special missions and living in areas with limited phone service can make the few phone calls they are able to make even more precious.
The VFW’s Operation Uplink allows people to donate prepaid calling cards to deployed service members. They also host a Free Call Day each month to allow service members to dial in to family members without worrying about the cost. More than 6.1 million calls have been made by deployed soldiers and hospitalized veterans thanks to the program.
10. Put Your Old Phone Toward a Good Cause
Upgrading to the newest-model cell phone might seem like a splurge for yourself, but it’s a great opportunity to support a good cause by donating your old device. Cell Phones for Soldiers takes your old phone and uses it to purchase international minutes for soldiers serving overseas.
Since the program began in 2004, more than 218 million minutes of free talk time have been given to military members around the world. That’s a lot of phone calls for soldiers who might not otherwise have the chance to speak to their family members.
You also can request free talk time for a soldier overseas. So if you know anyone who has been waiting desperately to speak to a loved one, this program is a great way to help make the connection.
11. Donate Your Airline Miles
It might not seem like much, but donating your unused airline miles can go a long way to helping service members in need of medical care. The Hero Miles Program, run by Fisher House and the Department of Defense, has helped donate more than 50,000 tickets worth about $73 million to military members and their families who must travel to receive medical care.
In partnership with Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, United Airlines, and US Airways, the public can donate their unused miles to be used for these life-changing medical treatments, or to help get families closer to those getting treatment far away.
12. Give Up Your Hotel Room
Just as you can give away airplane tickets, you can also give up hotel-room points to provide safe places for people to stay while their loved ones receive medical treatment. Fisher House often provides homes near military hospitals so that spouses or parents can stay nearby while a soldier receives treatment. In cases where there isn’t a Fisher House, military families can be placed in nearby hotels.
The Hotels for Heroes program provides these family members with a comfortable place to stay without having to worry about the cost. Participating hotels include AmericInn, Best Western, Choice Hotels, La Quinta Inn and Suites, Marriott, and Wyndham.
13. Fill a Stocking
Stockings for Soldiers sent more than 12,000 homemade, personalized stockings filled with 48,000 pounds of gifts last year. In its 11th year, Stockings for Soldiers will do it all again by accepting donations of felt to make the stockings and then fill them with a variety of gifts, including music, paperback books, DVDs, and Snowman Soup hot-chocolate packets.
Those interested in helping the cause can download designs for making stockings and then ship them to the office in Delaware. You also can send items on the project shopping list, such as candy, foot warmers, socks, tooth brushes, and snacks.
14. Start Your Own Operation Celebration
Students in Fort Rucker, Ala., recently worked with their teachers and classmates to make homemade gifts and goodies to send to soldiers during the holidays. The children learn what it means to be separated from family members during the holidays, because it’s one thing their classmates will face at different times, one teacher said. Many schools participate in similar programs to teach younger generations the value of supporting military members while learning to understand what their classmate might go through while a parent or family member serves.
15. Give Through Hugs for Heroes
These words are repeated throughout the mission statement for Hugs for Heroes, a national organization that works to send gifts to soldiers. This organization ships small tokens such as playing cards, nutritional snacks, and toiletries. Through these donations, soldiers get a little piece of comfort without a lot of effort from the giver.
Since it was founded in 2004, Hugs for Heroes has sent more than 11 tons of goods to soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. Every single cent of donated funds is used to buy supplies for the heroes. Everyone who works for the organization is a volunteer giving of their own time to make soldiers a little more comfortable.
Hugs for Heroes makes sure to learn details about each unit they ship to so they don’t end up sending hundreds of DVDs to a unit that has no way of playing them. The goal of the organization is to send enough items so that no one walks away empty handed on mail day.
A Small Thing Can Go a Long Way
No matter what you can give to our soldiers, it’s important to know that even the simplest thank you card or a small gift of comfort can go a long way. For the men and women who serve countess hours spending time away from friends and family, these contributions can make all the difference during a lonely holiday season.
The next time you’re shopping for gifts, pick up a few items that can be sent to soldiers. Grab an extra greeting card. Make a donation to an organization that can help those who deserve it the most. A small expression of thanks can be just what a soldier needs to feel appreciated.