Lt. Gov. Dan McKee joined several state and local dignitaries and sponsors to kick off the 17th annual Operation Holiday Cheer at the Rhode Island National Guard Armory in Warwick on Tuesday morning.
Operation Holiday Cheer focuses on distributing care packages – assembled through contributions and donations from across the state – to men and women who are deployed during the holidays. McKee said of the 300 total care packages, 200 will go to deployed troops, while 100 will be set aside for veterans at Operation Stand Down Rhode Island.
“There’s no doubt that unfortunately, one of the true costs of freedom is that we do send our service members overseas and away from their loved ones during this time of year, and I think it’s great that these partners, the people assembled here, make it possible that we let them know that even though they’re far away, they’re close in our hearts,” OSDRI Executive Director Erik Wallin said during Tuesday’s event.
Wallin said the care packages provide something for everyone, as kids and adults that come through the food pantry find valuable items.
“The children enjoy all of the candy and the food and the treats that are in there as they go through at the food pantry, and the parents are gathering up all the other necessities, like the razors and the shaving cream,” Wallin said. “But no doubt, our veterans absolutely love that coffee syrup, so thank you so much not just for supporting those who are serving, but also for supporting those who have served.”
Lt. Matthew Schultz was one of the servicemen who has received a care package, and he told the assembled crowd how much each delivery means to those overseas. He was deployed from 2017 to 2018, and he recalled how special it was to get a “little taste of home” through the coffee syrup he received.
“Deployments are tough. It was my first one, so I felt that first-hand. I know a lot of others did as well, especially around the holidays, when you’re away from your families for extended periods of time,” Schultz said. “We are one team here in Rhode Island. It’s extremely important, and I want to thank everyone for the support and all the volunteers for the hard work and time. It means a lot.”
Warwick Mayor Joseph Solomon echoed that sentiment, noting that Operation Holiday Cheer would be impossible “if it wasn’t for everybody pulling together.” More than 30 sponsors are powering the mission, and the public has its chance to help, too.
Donations will be accepted and sorted Saturday, Nov. 16, from 8:30 to 11 a.m., while on Sunday, Nov. 17, during the same time range, volunteers will be tasked with putting the care packages together. Those who wish to donate money or time, as well as view the troops’ wish list, can visit ltgov.ri.gov/ohc.
“The only way that this works is truly a partnership,” Solomon said. “That is why the United States of America is the greatest country in the world, and will remain the greatest country in the world, because of its philosophies and point of view and ultimate goal [of] freedom that our ancestors have professed well before us … I am proud to partner on behalf of the city of Warwick and to continue with this for future years.”
Rhode Island Veterans Affairs Director Kasim Yarn lauded the men and women serving overseas, and those in fatigues present at the event, for their service. He said the message the state sends to troops through the care packages is critical.
“To the men and women in uniform that are present today, God bless you, and I love you all, because you take an oath and you represent a minority across the nation regarding your willingness to give all to serve this blessed nation of ours,” Yarn said.
McKee’s office is still accepting names and addresses for deployed troops, and those interested can call 222-2371 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The sponsors for this year’s Operation Holiday Cheer include AAA Northeast, American Red Cross RI, Amica Mutual Insurance, Ann & Hope, BankNewport, BankRI, Blue Star Moms, City of Warwick, CVS Health, Dave’s Marketplace, Del’s Lemonade, Dunkin’ Donuts, Finlay Extracts & Ingredients, General Dynamics Electric Boat, Girl Scouts of Southeastern NE, Hasbro, The Home Depot, iHeartMedia, Local 57 Operating Engineers, National Association of Letter Carriers, National Association of Postal, Supervisors - Branch 105, National Grid, Navigant Credit Union, the New England Patriots, the Pawtucket Red Sox, Rhode Island Resource Recovery, Saddlebags for Soldiers, Stop & Shop and the U.S. Postal Service.