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Spreading the holiday spirit

National and local agencies help

There a many organizations dedicated to making Christmas a merry one for deserving service members. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

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For many Americans, the holiday season is one filled with family fun, food and festivities accented by cards, lights on a Christmas tree, and nicely wrapped gifts.

But for some service members' families, their military budgets do not leave much leeway in order for them to celebrate a traditional Christmas holiday.

To help make the season merrier and more memorable, many organizations offer programs to spread Christmas cheer to those who could use some assistance. 

The following are programs and options available to military families in need, and how those who wish to help can do so.

Pay Away the Lay Away: Individuals and organizations partner to support military families by paying off their layaway balances at the Exchanges and retail stores. For more information, visit:

Operation Christmas Spirit:This organization supports military families by "adopting" military families and fulfilling their Christmas wish lists with gifts for all the family members, and with which they can do their own shopping. To learn more, visit:

Operation Holiday Joy:Supported by Women's Day Magazine, this initiative raises funds for food and gifts for military members and their families. Since 2004, they have delivered more than 320,000 toys and over 25,000 baskets of food. For local assistance, visit:

Soldiers' Angels: Soldiers' Angels Adopt-A-Family program helps lower-enlisted families receive a $50 to $100 gift card to help pay for a holiday meal and gifts for children age 18 years and younger. For more information, visit:

Toys for Tots: This venerable Marine Corps Reserve program collects new, unwrapped toys during October, November and December and distributes them as Christmas gifts to less fortunate children, including those in the military. To donate or request a toy, visit:

Trees for Troops: Sponsored by the Christmas Spirit Foundation, this organization offers free Christmas trees to military families at 62 bases throughout the United States. To learn more, visit: or

Unit Command and its Family Readiness Group:Connect with your soldier's unit command staff and/or its Family Readiness Group to learn about local programs -- both on and off Joint Base Lewis-McChord -- that offer gifts and meals for military families.

USO:The area's United Service Organization's offices provide a variety of holiday assistance programs including holiday dinners, events with Santa, toy and food drives and more. For assistance, visit:

Wreaths Across America: Donate to this organization or volunteer Dec. 14 to lay wreaths on the graves of veterans at one of 1,600 cemeteries across the country. To be informed, visit:

The ways in which to help military members and families celebrate Christmas are varied -- all it takes is the willingness to do so.

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