Holiday Cheer

We all know having a loved one in the military that there are risks and dangers to the job. No matter how we prepare ourselves, we know we will never be ready or never really know how we will handle it if we get the call or the knock on the door telling us our loved one has been injured or killed.  When a service member is badly injured, many of these moms, dads, wives or husbands are given very little notice to get on a plane to fly to the nearest medical facility caring for their loved one.  For many this is Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. This is often the first stop on American soil for our injured service members.

So imagine you get that call. Imagine you have just hours to get on a plane and all you want to do and all you care about is seeing your loved one again in person; to hug them, to kiss them, to hold their hand or to pray for them. Your last thought is have I packed everything I need?  You don’t care. You just want to see them. But the reality hc1  is the average stay at Walter Reed for a wounded service member is 18 months. You have no idea when you walk out that door that you might be giving up the very familiar and comfortable life you have known for a hospital room and that things will never be the same. You have no idea that most likely you will lose your job, you will have to possibly leave your spouse or you’re other children behind for months or years. You will leave your friends,  your family, the soccer games and the birthdays, and you will be put through the most challenging, most uplifting and at the same time the most emotionally taxing time of your life.

You and your wounded or ill loved one will start over. We call this the “new normal”.  You will spend your days living out of a hospital room and the Fisher House or Navy Lodge.  You will improvise and make due with what you got, what you packed in that bag as you rushed out the door with – the basics. And sometimes not even that.  Sometimes it’s just the clothes on your back. You most likely won’t have time to go shopping for the items you need. Why? Because you won’t want to leave your loved one’s side. Why? Because you won’t have a car to get around. Why? Because the NEX Store is just too far to go and you are so tired and have so much to take care of.

Then when your loved one is healthy enough you will transition to the outpatient barracks.  This is a big milestone for many. It’s a taste of this new normal life you are creating. You will be given an apartment – a 2 bedroom efficiency apartment. Whether you are a family of 4, a mom taking care of her wounded son, or just you and your fiancé, this is where you will live until your warrior is ready to go home. You will be provided 4 sets of silverware, 4 plates, 4 cups, 4 bowls and a set of inexpensive pots to cook with. That’s it. You won’t have a coffee maker or a sharp knife or a cutting board, or a vacuum cleaner or salt and pepper or a tea kettle. You won’t have a mixing bowl or a ladle or a toaster or a mixer or tweezers or shampoo or Windex or a toilet bowl brush.

Rather depressing and daunting right?  This is where nonprofits like Operation Ward 57 come in. This is how WE can help. WE can help the families from the moment their wounded hero arrives to get those needed items, to get that special first solid foods meal, or to get that new coat for the caregiver since they were not planning to be in the frigid DC cold. WE can help. YOU can help. Because it really does take a village.

Each year, Operation Ward 57 provides a Holiday Cheer party for the inpatient wounded warriors, their family members and the medical staff at Walter Reed. We bring in a traditional catered holiday meal, gift bags and entertainment. We know life on the ward is not easy but it’s our way to bring the holidays to them and bring some cheer to their lives. It might even be the first “home cooked” meal they have had. If you would like to support our Holiday Cheer Party you can make a monetary donation at www.operationward57.org/donate. Every dollar helps.  Or you can donate gift cards to be handed out the wounded warriors and their families (Walmart, Target, Applebee’s, Subway, etc. are great).

Many have also asked us how they can help the outpatient families this Christmas too.  Here is what you can do – Get with people in your office, or your church, or your child’s classroom, and put together care packages. Not the care packages you would typically send to a Soldier or a Marine – but care packages that will help their caregiver provide them with a little bit of “regular” this holiday season in their new apartment.

Some of the ideas the caregivers have suggested are:

– A Christmas Breakfast package: a griddle, a mixing bowl and whisk, pancake mix, a nice spatula and some maple syrup. (Toasters and toaster ovens, by the way, are in high demand! )

-A Holiday Baking package: a nice cookie sheet, spatula, hand mixer and a bowl to mix in, cookie cutters and decorations, and a jar of the dry ingredients with instructions for baking. (Muffin pans or pie pans would also be appreciated as would any holiday type spices!)

– A Christmas Decoration package: 2-4′ artificial Christmas trees with decorations and lights and a tree skirt, greenery and lights and command hooks to hang around a window, wreaths and a wreath hanger.

– A Christmas Crafting package: Gingerbread house kits have been requested many times, as have craft supplies for families to make holiday crafts and decorations with their kids.

– A Pampering Package: a loofah, holiday scented body gel, a couple of fluffy towels and some oils and lotions and/or the items needed to do a holiday manicure.

– A Healthy Eating Package: (Paleo  or Gluten Free) Coconut and almond flour, coconut oil, a pie pan and the recipe and ingredients to make a paleo pie crust or other favorite paleo or healthy recipe. An immersion blender and a to go cup for smoothies, plus some flax seed and protein powder will make a great gift for a wife who gets only a few minutes to get to the gym in between her husband’s appointments.

– A Wine or Beer Package: Wine or beer glasses, a corkscrew or bottle opener, and a bottle or two of wine or some holiday beers – plus maybe a gift card to a local restaurant for a night out of the barracks.

-A Christmas Dinner Package: a roasting pan, herbs and spices, meat thermometer, turkey lacers and a carving knife.

-A Coffee or Tea Package: a coffee maker with filters, holiday coffee, a variety of sweeteners in a holder that can sit on the counter, and a couple of nice mugs – or a teapot with a variety of teas and some honey and sugar.

-A Crock Pot Package: a crock pot, heat proof spoon, sharp knife to cut veggies, meat scissors, and the spices needed to prepare a favorite recipe. And of course the favorite recipe!

– How about an Elf On The Shelf Package? A couple of elves with directions and supplies for a couple weeks worth of elf mischief!!

-A Christmas Eve Package: popcorn and a popcorn bowl, hot cocoa and marshmallows and mugs, and some family Christmas movies.

Things to keep in mind:

1. If you have a tradition that you love around the holidays, someone here probably has the same tradition. Are you a knitter? Put together a package of knitting supplies. Do you make candy? Put some molds, candy melts and dipping tools in a basket with some nuts and fillings. Do you have a great soup or stew recipe? How about a nice soup pot, the spices and the recipe! Can’t think of anything? How about a mix of kitchen items? A garlic press, vegetable peeler, paring knife and oven mitts. A George Foreman grill, or a toaster or toaster oven or a gift card to a local grocery store (Giant, Whole Foods, Peapod, Safeway) would be awesome. Usually, no one wants cleaning supplies for Christmas, but in this case, a dust buster or a $50 vacuum cleaner would probably make someone the happiest any vacuum has ever made anyone!

2. As always, remember that just because they are wounded, does not mean they are desperate. One quality item is better than 5 cheap items – especially in this case when the families are missing the nice items they have at home, and are “making due” with the few cheap things they have purchased here. We are not saying you have to purchase the very best – we are  just asking you to keep in mind that they have already sacrificed so much, and that a little bit of convenience and a little bit of “nice” can provide A LOT of comfort during the most trying and stressful time of their lives.

3. Also remember that they will most likely need EVERYTHING involved in whatever package you give. You don’t have to give every part of it – any part is appreciated! – but if you give lights to hang, know that they can’t be hung without command hooks. And that a pie will require a pie pan, a pastry cutter, and some non-stick spray, and that pretty much any recipe will require a mixing bowl and some type of utensil that they probably don’t have.

4. You can mail the packages to our Operation Ward 57 volunteer. Please email us at info@operationward57.org  for the address.

If you would like more information on Operation Ward 57, please go to www.operationward57.org or www.facebook.com/operationward57

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Some of the ideas the wives, fiancés and moms have suggested are:
– A Christmas Breakfast package: a griddle, a mixing bowl and whisk, pancake mix, a nice spatula and some maple syrup. (Toasters and toaster ovens, by the way, are in high demand! When I mentioned to some of the Moms that a very sweet co-worker of Troy’s had purchased some, they immediately asked when they could start lining up to get one!)
-A Holiday Baking package: a nice cookie sheet, spatula, hand mixer and a bowl to mix in, cookie cutters and decorations, and a jar of the dry ingredients with instructions for baking. (Muffin pans or pie pans would also be appreciated as would any holiday type spices!)
– A Christmas Decoration package: 2-4′ artificial Christmas trees with decorations and lights and a tree skirt, greenery and lights and command hooks to hang around a window, wreaths and a wreath hanger.
– A Christmas Crafting package: Gingerbread house kits have been requested many times, as have craft supplies for families to make holiday crafts and decorations with their kids.
– A Pampering Package: a loofah, holiday scented body gel, a couple of fluffy towels and some oils and lotions and/or the items needed to do a holiday manicure.
– A Healthy Eating Package: (Paleo friends?? We’ve got at least two at Walter Reed right now!) Coconut and almond flour, coconut oil, a pie pan and the recipe and ingredients to make a paleo pie crust or other favorite paleo or healthy recipe. An immersion blender and a to go cup for smoothies, plus some flax seed and protein powder will make a great gift for a wife who gets only a few minutes to get to the gym in between her husband’s appointments.
– A Wine or Beer Package: Wine or beer glasses, a corkscrew or bottle opener, and a bottle or two of wine or some holiday beers – plus maybe a gift card to a local restaurant for a night out of 62.
-A Christmas Dinner Package: a roasting pan, herbs and spices, meat thermometer, turkey lacers and a carving knife.
-A Coffee or Tea Package: a coffee maker with filters, holiday coffee, a variety of sweeteners in a holder that can sit on the counter, and a couple of nice mugs – or a teapot with a variety of teas and some honey and sugar.
-A Crock Pot Package: a crock pot, heat proof spoon, sharp knife to cut veggies, meat scissors, and the spices needed to prepare a favorite recipe. And of course the favorite recipe!
-A Christmas Eve Package: popcorn and a popcorn bowl, hot cocoa and marshmallows and mugs, and some family Christmas movies.

Things to keep in mind:
1. If you have a tradition that you love around the holidays, someone here probably has the same tradition. Are you a knitter? Put together a package of knitting supplies. Do you make candy? Put some molds, candy melts and dipping tools in a basket with some nuts and fillings. Do you have a great soup or stew recipe? How about a nice soup pot, the spices and the recipe! Can’t think of anything? How about a mix of kitchen items? A garlic press, vegetable peeler, paring knife and oven mitts. A George Foreman grill, or a toaster or toaster oven or a gift card to a local grocery store (Giant, Whole Foods, Peapod, Safeway) would be awesome. Usually, no one wants cleaning supplies for Christmas, but in this case, a dust buster or a $50 vacuum cleaner would probably make someone the happiest any vacuum has ever made anyone!

2. As always, remember that just because they are wounded, does not mean they are desperate. One quality item is better than 5 cheap items – especially in this case when the families are missing the nice items they have at home, and are “making due” with the few cheap things they have purchased here. I’m not saying you have to purchase the very best – I’m just asking you to keep in mind that they have already sacrificed so much, and that a little bit of convenience and a little bit of “nice” can provide A LOT of comfort during the most trying and stressful time of their lives.

3. Also remember that they will most likely need EVERYTHING involved in whatever package you give. You don’t have to give every part of it – any part is appreciated! – but if you give lights to hang, know that they can’t be hung without command hooks. And that a pie will require a pie pan, a pastry cutter, and some non-stick spray, and that pretty much any recipe will require a mixing bowl and some type of utensil that they probably don’t have.

4. You can mail the packages to our volunteer- pm us or email at info@operationward57.org for my address.

Brittney Hamilton
Executive Director
Brittney Hamilton has spent the last 13 years working for the Department of Veterans Affairs Hospital in Seattle, WA as a researcher in mental health and addictions. She earned her Master Degree in Psychology in 2003 from Seattle University. She is also a proud Army wife, married to SSG Christian Hamilton serving the 606th FSC, 17th Fires Brigade at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Brittney joined Operation Ward 57 in 2007 as a volunteer Administrator before stepping up as Executive Director in 2011.