By LYNSIE DICKERSON
Gold Standard Staff Writer
With the holidays approaching, the workers and volunteers at the American Red Cross Fort Knox office have been busy preparing to help military Families in need this time of year.
Holiday Assistance Programs include Santa’s Workshop and the Thanksgiving Food Assistance Program.
Santa’s Workshop is a volunteer-run program that provides new toys for military Families in financial need during the holidays, said Deann Burns, a volunteer with the Santa’s Workshop program. Families who qualify to participate in the program are escorted by “elves” through the inventory of donated items and are allowed to select a book, stocking stuffers and two toys for each child ages 2-13, as well as a game for the Family.
The building that houses Santa’s Workshop contains a stocking stuffer room, a book and game nook, a room with toys for children ages 2-6 and a room with toys for children ages 7-13. Toys donated include bikes, dolls, radios and jewelry boxes.
May Giulitto, director of the Fort Knox American Red Cross, said she got the idea for Santa’s Workshop from a similar program at Fort Hood, Texas. Since its Fort Knox beginning, Santa’s Workshop “(has gotten) bigger and bigger every year,” Giulitto said.
Last year, Santa’s Workshop helped 239 Families and 735 children.
“We’re anticipating, even, an increase in Families and children this year (with the economy the way it is),” said Lisa Rettke, a volunteer with the Santa’s Workshop program.
The volunteers have been preparing Santa’s Workshop for months, with a little help along the way.
“The 4th (Cavalry Brigade) came to our rescue,” Burns said. Col. John Prairie, Command Sgt. Maj. Carl Fagan, Capt. Adam Katz and 40 Soldiers from the unit helped put the stocking stuffer room together, organizing toys and setting them up on shelves and walls.
Burns said she enjoys seeing the Santa’s Workshop project from beginning to end as well as the impact the program has on the Families who participate.
“It’s very heartwarming. It kind of brings back the meaning of Christmas,” Burns said. “That’s probably why I volunteer, because you know you are helping Families.”
The Thanksgiving Food Assistance Program provides baskets of food for military Families in need. Chaplains provide commissary gift cards and Red Cross supplements those with other items like canned goods, Burns said.
“The (Families) that do really need it (are) very appreciative,” Giulitto said. “It’s been, for some of the Families, very helpful. And it just makes their holiday a brighter day.”
The Red Cross also offers the Helping Hands program, which provides food, clothing, toiletries and household items to military Families in need throughout the year.
The Helping Hands warehouse holds items like coats, baby clothes, shoes and kitchen appliances, which eligible Families may take home for free. A lending closet allows Families to borrow items like tables, chairs and lamps.
When Helping Hands has leftover or unwanted clothes, it donates those items to Good Will, which in return credits Helping Hands with voucher points, Giulitto said. If Helping Hands does not have an item someone is looking for—like maternity clothes, for example—Helping Hands may purchase that item from Good Will by redeeming the voucher points.
“We don’t throw anything away, we get a voucher,” Giulitto said.
Helping Hands is also preparing to help Families with Thanksgiving dinners by prepackaging bags of food for Families to pick up.
Giulitto said that when it comes to helping others, the program is not focused on a Soldier’s rank, but rather helping military Families in need.
“We want the Soldiers to basically be able to help themselves, but with our assistance until they can get on their two feet,” Giulitto said.
Those wishing to participate in the Holiday Assistance Programs can apply by contacting their unit’s first sergeant, commander or chaplain, who will determine which Families are eligible. Applications are available at the Fort Knox Red Cross or www.louisville-redcross.org.
Applications for the Holiday Assistance Programs are due Nov. 1. Applications turned in after the deadline will be accepted on a case-by-case basis.
For more information on Fort Knox American Red Cross Programs, call (502) 624-2163.
Those wishing to donate may bring items to the main office at 1131 5th Avenue or call the above phone number.