Santas needed

Operation Homefront needs people to adopt military families

by Mike Parks

You don’t need to go buy a big red suit or invest in any reindeer to be an Operation Homefront Santa. You just need a little room in your heart for a military family in need.

“Within hours of the September 11 attacks, there were guys in the air on their way to Afghanistan,” said Jane Weaver-Sobel, president of the local chapter of Operation Homefront – an organization started to help the families of soldiers serving overseas.

The core group of families Operation Homefront serves are those lowest level soldiers, the “youngest, lowest-paid guys who are usually on the front line,” Weaver-Sobel said.

And this time of year, as the weather gets cold back home and kids start fantasizing about their Christmas wish list, Weaver-Sobel and Operation Homefront staff don’t want soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan worrying about how to pay for the newest toy for their kids.

“We don’t want them to worry about what crisis their family could be in: ‘Do I feed the kids, or do I get them Christmas presents?’” Weaver-Sobel said.

As of Nov. 12, Operation Homefront’s local chapter had 115 families still in need of help. While every little bit helps, the group asks donors to help pay for a holiday meal and spend $30 a piece on each child in a soldier’s family. Purchasing a gift for parents is optional. “We just want to make sure they take care of the kids,” Weaver-Sobel said.

When a family in need fills out an application with Operation Homefront, they list the children and some of the toys they would like for Christmas. A donor can purchase those things, or send a gift card so parents can get it themselves.

“They made our Christmas,” said Carolyn Bohnert, whose family was adopted last year while they were stationed at Fort Bragg. “We didn’t buy a thing. It was a blessing. I didn’t know how we would make Christmas without them.”

The Bohnert family is whole once more. Sgt. Paul Bohnert is back home with his wife and children: two Ryans, ages 17 and 8, and 3-year-old Kayleah. But when the sergeant is overseas, working as a crew chief on a Blackhawk helicopter, the Bohnert family has to try its best without him.

“Times are tough,” Carolyn Bohnert said. “It was either pay the bills or buy presents. The Operation Homefront people understand (and) don’t judge you.”

The Bohnerts were one of the families adopted by Air Gas National Welders. Five members of the company called and wrote the Bohnerts, exchanging letters and photos leading up to Christmas last year.

“When you meet these families, they’re … very gracious; they are very thankful that their children are going to have a nice Christmas,” said Traci Rivera, executive assistant for Air Gas National Welders. “But when (the parents) see we’re giving them gifts as well … they are just overwhelmed.”

The company is sponsoring 20 families this year.

“They basically got us everything on the list of gifts I wrote down,” Carolyn Bonhert said of the company. “It was definitely above and beyond.”

Even after presents were in hand – even the family dog got a present – Bohnert said she keeps in touch with her new friends.

“It’s a struggle, and without them … I can’t say enough good things about them.”

Those wishing to help a family can do so by visiting http://www.operationhomefront.net/nc/.

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