WASHINGTON - More than 3,000 military families will have a few extra presents under the tree this year thanks to the generous efforts of Operation Homefront and The Wal-Mart Foundation.
Operation Homefront, a troop-support organization, invited spouses of deployed servicemembers to shop for free today in six make-shift toy stores stocked with toys and books donated by Wal-Mart and set up in locations near military installations throughout the country, said Jim Knotts, Operation Homefront chief executive officer.
"This has been an especially difficult year for our military families and their children. They're not only dealing with deployments but also the economic recession," Knotts said. "Through the generosity of Wal-Mart, these donated toys and books will allow the military families to provide a happy holiday for their children while using their limited resources on the vital basic needs."
Each family had the opportunity to choose three toys and one book per child, Knotts said, with a total of about 10,000 military children served.
The toy shops were set up near Fort Hood and Fort Bliss in Texas; Fort Bragg, N.C.; Fort Campbell, Ky.; Fort Stewart, Ga.; and Camp Pendleton, Calif. - markets that top the Pentagon's list of cities with the highest troop deployments, according to an Operation Homefront release.
Catherine Fontanez shopped today at the toy store in the North Carolina National Guard Armory gymnasium in Fayetteville, N.C., near Fort Bragg. Her husband, Army Sgt. Nelson Fontanez, is deployed, and she said events like this are a big help to military families.
"The toys are great; very educational," said the mother of three. "This will definitely help me out a lot financially."
Knotts said many of the military spouses he met with today were grateful for the financial help during tough economic times.
"I met a spouse with six kids; her husband is on his first deployment in Afghanistan," he said. "They only have $25 of disposable income for the month left over for Christmas gifts. This is a huge benefit for these families."
The toy giveaway today was just one part of a month-long effort to help military families, Knotts said. Over the next two weeks, Operation Homefront will give a $1,000 Wal-Mart gift card to five military families in 10 locations.
Homefront also will distribute, through 30 of its chapters, an additional $225,000 worth of Wal-Mart gift cards to help military families meet unmet needs. And, finally, the organization will provide caregivers of wounded warriors with 1,000 special gift packages.