By Judy Abelman, Volunteer Contributor
“Thank you for your service! Happy holidays!”
These warm greetings rang out over and over in mid-December as American Red Cross Services to the Armed Forces (SAF) volunteers handed out holiday cards at the VA Outpatient Clinic in Austin.
Volunteer Jasmine Posey, a military spouse, joined the Red Cross so that she could continue volunteering wherever she and her husband are stationed. Driving down from Killeen to the VA Center in Austin was well worth it because she “really likes being able to give back and provide veterans with holiday cheer – as they have done so much for us.”
The nationwide “Holiday Mail for Heroes” program was started by the Red Cross in December 2007 as an outlet for the American people to express their appreciation to service members during the holiday season. People create cards, send them to the Red Cross, and we help distribute them to military members, veterans and their families.
This year alone, the Central Texas office received more than 4,000 holiday cards. The cards arrived from all over the United States, and many of them were “home-grown” with lovely messages and drawings that were greatly appreciated by the service members and their families.
According to Red Cross SAF Specialist Ames Davis, the “Holiday Mail for Heroes” program empowers all volunteers, with just a small commitment of time, to make a big difference in their community.
That’s precisely what prompted local Red Cross volunteer Lorelei Supapo to come out to the VA in December; her job prevents her from taking long-term Red Cross assignments but she found “Holiday Mail” and was happy to get involved. She loves Christmas and found this program to be a “small thing you can do to make a difference in a person’s life.”
“Many vets don’t have families anymore or are separated from their families at the holidays,” explained Lorelei. “This is an easy way to do something that’s meaningful to them.”
A huge success over the years, the “Holiday Mail” program brings in so many holiday-specific cards each December that Red Cross volunteers have a hard time getting them all distributed while the holiday messages are still timely.
So a transformation is underway.
The program is now run locally by Red Cross regions across the nation, and it has grown into a year-round opportunity to support our service members. “Thank a Hero”—as it’s now called—is the perfect opportunity for anyone to submit thank-you, get well and holiday cards to the armed forces all year round. You can even submit an original banner or sign, or share a social media video to show a service member you care.
“We know that the enthusiasm and warm wishes people have during the winter holidays extends throughout the year,” said Bristel Minsker, Communications Director for the American Red Cross Serving Central and South Texas. “With ‘Thank a Hero’ we hope to remind Central Texans that their military community needs their support year-round.”
When asked why we’re extending the program, Ames recalled two emotional encounters. The first with a veteran who told her with a sob that he hadn’t received a Christmas card in years. And the second when she extended the holiday gratitude to a 5-year-old son of a veteran and thanked him for his own service to the country. “Just like my daddy? “the toddler asked. “Yes, just like your daddy,” Ames replied.
Want to help? Send your thank-you, get well and holiday cards (all holidays – remember Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day) to:
Thank a Hero
c/o Ames Davis
American Red Cross Serving Central Texas
2218 Pershing Drive
Austin, TX 78723
Want to help distribute cards? It’s a great team-building event for companies and organizations. Simply send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and sign up to volunteer with the Red Cross at volunteerconnection.redcross.org.