Groups Donate Gift Certificates to Troops, Families

By Carmen L. Gleason
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 9, 2007 - Two home-front groups are helping American citizens support servicemembers and their families worldwide through the donation of gift certificates.

"Gift of Groceries" and "Gifts from the Homefront" allow contributions to be made through "CertifiChecks" that can be redeemed at military commissaries and exchanges worldwide.

Both groups are members of America Supports You, the Defense Department program connecting grassroots organizations with men and women of the military at home and abroad.

Mike Baskerville, vice president of sales at CertifiChecks, first contacted the Defense Commissary Agency about starting the program in 2002 after he had difficulty getting care packages to his nephew stationed in Pensacola, Fla. He soon branched out to include the Army and Air Force Exchange Service as well.

The certificates are accepted by the U.S. Treasury Department and are processed the same as certified checks. They can be purchased in person, on the Internet or by phone at 1-877-770-GIFT (4438).

Gift certificates can be mailed to troops deployed overseas for use in one of the many exchanges located in the combat zones of Iraq and Afghanistan. Rather than paying shipping costs for large, heavy packages, troops can use the certificates to purchase items they need.

Since the inception of the CertifiChecks program, more than $13 million have been donated or given as gifts to family members, Baskerville said.

"This was a great gift-giving alternative to care packages that are often cumbersome," he said. "It made a lot more sense, and it was a great idea for people to donate these to charitable organizations."

The Air Force Aid Society, United Service Organizations, Fisher House Foundation, American Red Cross and Operation Homefront are a few of the organizations highlighted on the Defense Commissary Agency and AAFES Web sites that receive the gift certificates to be distributed to families in need.

Operation Homefront, a non-profit organization that provides assistance to military families while servicemembers are deployed, is an America Supports You member benefiting from the CertifiCheck program.

After being involved in the program for nearly two years, Operation Homefront has distributed more than $32,000 in gift certificates to at least 600 families who have applied for assistance and proven they have a financial need, the organization's executive vice president, Amy Palmer, said.

The Fisher House Foundation, also a member of America Supports You, provides the certificates to families of the men and women in military or Veterans Affairs hospitals. The foundation became a recipient of the gift certificate programs in April 2003 and has since received more than $92,000 in donations.

"(The foundation) has made support of combat casualties and others hospitalized due to their service in operations Enduring or Iraqi Freedom our highest priority," said James Weiskopf, Fisher House Foundation vice president of communications. "Our largest donations go to these families, to help defray their living costs while they stay at one of our 37 Fisher Houses."

Weiskopf said the donations are sent to house managers, who use them to purchase common goods like cleaning supplies and also distribute them to family members to purchase food while away from their homes to be with injured servicemembers.

"(CertifiChecks) are making a difference in the lives of these families whose loved ones have suffered grievously while defending our nation in the global war on terrorism," Weiskopf said. "This has been an incredibly gratifying program."

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