Story by Crystal Farris
Idaho Army National Guard
Over the past 12 years the Idaho National Guard Holiday Assistance Program has helped make Christmas merrier for military families throughout the state by providing meals and presents to those in need.
“The Holiday Assistance Program is important to our service members and their families,” said Maj. Stephen Self, Idaho National Guard Family Programs deputy director. “It provides food and gifts to those who are experiencing financial hardships or other crises.”
This year the program received its largest amount of donations from approximately 800 sponsors, enabling more than 500 Idahoan families to receive gift cards, toys for under their trees and food to serve at their tables.
Holiday assistance is part of the Idaho National Guard Family Programs and ran by family assistance center specialists located throughout the state’s seven regions. Each year, FACS support the program by getting donations to local families in need from all branches and components depending on their individual needs.
Families nominated to receive assistance by their units were given the opportunity to indicate the type of assistance needed, along with a list of family members, their ages and types of gifts wanted. By helping military families in their moment of need, the program aims to sustain and develop resilient families through the holidays and beyond.
Local contributors donated gifts ranging from stuffed toys to dolls, board games, art supplies, books, action figures and more. Sponsors from across the U.S. donated approximately $8,000 in gift cards for families requesting assistance other than toys. Local church groups donated approximately 100 pounds of turkeys, 25 gallons of milk, 25 dozens of eggs, butter, gravy and more so that families could make traditional Christmas dinners.
“Our generous sponsors go above and beyond to meet the needs of these service members and their families,” said Self. “They provide them with supplemental support and gifts that bring joy and foster the holiday spirit.”
In addition to local churches, sponsors included retired service members, civilians and more. Many donors return annually to pay some sort of contribution to the cause and give back to the community, said retired Air Force chaplain Thomas Westall.
Westall first organized the holiday assistance program around 2008, while serving as a chaplain at Gowen Field.
“This is what I’ve been doing my whole career as a chaplain with the Air Force,” said Westall. “Trying to take care of those who have it tough this time of year.”
Family Programs also offer information and referral services to service members and their families throughout the year. Services include legal and financial resources and referrals, crisis intervention, TRICARE support, benefit enrollment assistance and community information and outreach.
FACS are available 24 hours a day and located throughout the state in Boise, Caldwell, Idaho Falls, Lewiston, Pocatello and Post Falls. For more information visit https://www.imd.idaho.gov/idaho-national-guard/family-programs/ or call 1-800-479-7006.
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