Operation Stuff A Stocking: Helping Little Heroes
It’s officially December and the countdown to Christmas has begun. While it ’tis the season for spreading joy, one program is helping spread that joy to under privileged military families. Operation Stuff A Stocking is in it’s fourth year of helping financially strained families in the tri-county area.
Created after receiving calls from the community wanting to know how they can help military families during the holiday season Operation Stuff A Stocking is a program for the public to support the “little heroes” in these families.
Amy Phillips, Center Operations and Programs Director, has overseen the program since it first started.
“We’re trying to relieve financial stress on military families of lower enlisted military families,” Phillips explained. “That’s why the program is dedicated to E6 and below.”
The way the program works is easy, any individual or organization selects a child’s wish list from the Giving Tree at the USO Welcome Center at the Tampa and Orlando Airport. Then they purchase a minimum of $50 worth of gifts from that child’s wish list and returns those gifts unwrapped by December 9th to the USO Welcome Center at the Tampa airport and December 12th at the Orlando Airport. The gifts returned will be checked and approved by the USO and will be placed in a large, red Santa bag for delivery.
The gifts are then picked up by parents from three different pick-up areas. Parents are able to use the unwrapped gifts in any way they’d like making some of the gifts from Santa or wrapping some to put under the tree.
Phillips also explained that individuals donating gifts are welcome to leave personalized notes with their gifts as well.
“We personally don’t see the children open the gifts, but because the parents are receiving them if any individuals that are donating gifts want to include a message to the families, that’s absolutely fine.”
“We’ve even had donors who will get the gifts for the kids and then throw in an additional $200 gift card to Walmart or something for the family as a whole,” said Phillips.
Phillips shared one testimonial from a donor in previous years, “we wanted to say ‘thank you’ a million times. My husband and I really appreciate everything the USO has given us in regards to Christmas presents this year. We can’t wait to see the smiles on the girls’ faces when they open their gifts Christmas morning. You guys have gone above and beyond and we just wanted to let you know that all your work is not going unnoticed. “
Since being created four years ago, Operation Stuff A Stocking has seen tremendous growth. In the first year the program had 89 children registered. In the second year there were 192 registered and last year there were 379 children registered. So far this year the program has 420 children registered with wish lists.
“The program has really taken off, which shows there is a need among our military families in our local communities.”
For more information about Operation Stuff A Stocking visit the USO’s website. How will you spread joy this holiday season?