Groups Sending Troops Holiday Cheer

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 21, 2006 - With a name that sounds like a Madagascar Penguins' plan, Operation Christmas Stocking has commenced.

Thanks to the efforts of Stars for Stripes and Operation Give, troops in Iraq will have Christmas stockings this holiday season.

To accomplish this in a timely manner and accommodate as many servicemembers as possible, donations need to be at Operation Give's Salt Lake City warehouse by Oct. 15. The goal is to ship at least at least 10,000 stockings, Paul Holton, an Army National Guardsman and founder of Operation Give, said.

"If we take care of every boot on the ground, then we would start giving them to the kids," Judy Seale, president and CEO of Stars for Stripes, said. "(We) cannot send too many."

Operation Give is a nonprofit organization that coordinates the collection and distribution of items for Iraqi children, who, after years of tyranny and war, have almost nothing, Holton said. Stars for Stripes is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing quality entertainment to internationally deployed U.S. military forces, according to its Web site.

Items such as hygiene, entertainment, and comfort items will be included in the stockings. The actual stockings are needed, as well. Holton said Operation Give's donations come from many sources including Scouting groups, church and civic groups, as well as corporations and individuals.

Holton will provide shipping information to those needing to send donations to Salt Lake City. His contact information is available on the Operation Give Web site.

"People here in the U.S. ship (donations) free of charge when you e-mail (Operation Give) and say, 'I've got a box of stockings ... and I want to ship it to you.'" Seale said.

Operation Christmas Stocking started last year when Seale met Army Sgt. Maj. Cynthia Pritchett during a Stars for Stripes tour in Afghanistan. Pritchett was attempting to provide a Christmas stocking to every American troop in every country.

Seale started rallying her "troops" with flyers and e-mails. She then turned to Operation Give for help with the shipping, which it gets free through Holton's civilian employer, FedEx.

With a late start and some trouble getting the stockings through customs in Kuwait, the troops ended up getting the 14,000 pounds of Christmas stockings on Valentine's Day. This fact made Seale think twice about organizing the project again this year, but popular opinion won out.

"People loved doing it," she said. "So I said, 'OK. ... Let's do Iraq this year and spread the love around.'"

Holton knows a little piece of home goes a long way when you're away from family and friends. He spent all of 2003 and half of 2004 in Iraq, and said the Christmas tree, ornaments and gifts the troops in his unit received made them all feel good.

"It's just a boost of morale," he said. "I know how important it is to get stuff from home during Christmas."

Holton said efforts like Christmas Stocking are important to the troops because it's a tangible show of support from home.

"They're on our minds constantly," he said. "They're in our prayers, and we want them to know that."

Related Sites:

Operation Give []

Stars for Stripes []

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