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Troops get special treatment for holidays
MADISON, Wis. (12/28/11)--Many men and women serving the country were not able to return home for the holidays. However, credit unions did their best to send them a little bit of home, be it words of encouragement on a video from loved ones, holiday gift packages donated by credit unions and their communities or even Christmas cards.

At State Employees' CU, Raleigh, N.C., 130 employees, family members and volunteers worked together on its "SECU Supports the Troops" campaign, which provided holiday gift boxes for North Carolina's deployed National Guard and Reservists.  On Dec. 3, the group packed up 5,000 gift boxes in just three hours, with Raleigh postmaster Cheryl Picard assisting. The boxes were loaded into a U.S. Postal Service 18-wheeler for delivery.

Click to view larger image About 130 employees, family members and volunteers at State Employees' CU, Raleigh, N.C., worked three hours on Dec. 3 to pack 5,000 holiday gift boxes for North Carolina's National Guard and Reservists deployed around the world. (Photo provided by the North Carolina Credit Union League)
SECU's 239 statewide branches became collection sites for the donated "wish list" items that poured in from SECU members and local community groups. Items included travel size items of dental supplies, first aid items, soap, shampoo, travel games, socks, writing supplies, and snacks, and were topped off with special hand-written letters from North Carolina school children thanking the troops for their service to the country.

"North Carolina National Guard soldiers and their families are within SECU's membership base, making this project even more significant for our cooperative. The excitement and success of last year's campaign, including the heartwarming thank you from soldiers who received gift packages, prompted the return of SECU Supports the Troops," said Leigh Brady, SECU senior vice president of education services."

"It's more than just the number of packages the credit union is delivering," said SECU board Chairman McKinley Wooten, "it is the demonstration of love that we have for our soldiers that makes this project special. We want them to feel the care that goes into putting these boxes together."

Many credit unions worked with Operation Best Wishes, a national program partnered with the Defense Credit Union Council and that credit unions bring to military installations during the holidays. Walter Laskos started the operation in 2004, when he was an employee at a credit union in California that worked with military families and invited families to use a new webcast video studio to send a video message to relatives deployed overseas. It proved so popular that he went on the road with it to other credit unions on military bases.

At Hanscom Air Force Base, Alison Murray used Operation Best Wishes to throw a virtual birthday party for her son, Phillip Kiy, who turned 21 earlier this month in Afghanistan.  She baked four cupcakes, packed a photo of her son in his uniform, and she and her two teenage daughters sang happy birthday to Kiy, fed his photo a cupcake, and performed a skit for him (Boston Globe Dec. 18). 

Click to view larger image Andrews FCU, Suitland, Md., was among the credit unions participating in the Defense Credit Union Council's partnership with Operation Best Wishes to sponsor free holiday video messages for service members and their families.  Eighty-nine people taped messages for loved ones overseas. (Photo provided by the Andrews FCU)
At Andrews FCU, Suitland, Md., 89 people taped messages, each recording a message up to 10 minutes long that included updates and words of encouragement. Participants received a CD containing the video message and service members accessed the archived recording via a link to the secured website. Deployed family members receive secure links through e-mail almost immediately after the video is recorded. They can log in for up to 90 days to watch the link throughout the holiday season (YNN.com Dec. 7).

At Fort Drum, N.Y.,  AmeriCU offered video messages via Operation Best Wishes.  Tiffany Dietter, whose husband, Sgt. William Dietter is deployed with the Third Brigade Special Troops Battalion, told local media that "We wanted to do something special." Even though the family uses Skype to talk to their father, her children were excited to send a video greeting to their dad.  Another spouse, Sara Cotleur, said sending a video greeting to her husband, Spc. Michael Cotleur, was a way for her to show him "I'm OK, so he doesn't have to worry about me." Like last year, the video production crew stayed well into the evening to accommodate family members (Army News Service Dec. 8)

Other credit unions remembering troops included:

  • Belvoir FCU, Woodbridge, Va., which attended Fort Belvoir's "Holiday Cookie Social & Goodie-Box Packing Party," to support families with deployed soldiers. Fifteen families took part in the specialized filing schedule during the packing party, hosted by Fort Belvoir's Army Community Services, which allowed a personalized video message to be sent in a care package. ACS packed 100 goodie bags for soldiers, representatives from the local Veterans of Foreign Wards cooked food for attendees, and the Belvoir Eagle newspaper captured the event.
  • Saginaw (Mich.) Medical FCU provided mailings for soldiers with "Send Santa to the Troops," a care package drive run by the Yellow Ribbon Guard. The staff of Medical FCU hosted a "Stuff a Bus" event at the credit union on Veterans Day. Some people drove more than 50 miles to each way to drop off donations. Elementary schools donated more than 610 pounds of candy, which was used as stuffing in the shipped care packages. The campaign filled three buses and collected $1,600 in cash donations (Michigan Monitor Nov. 28).
  • Mazuma CU, Kansas City, Mo., prepared holiday packages for team members' relatives serving in the U.S. Army. Jeannie Ray, a member service representative at the credit union's Gladstone branch, wanted to send Christmas cards to her brother's battalion in Afghanistan. She thought a battalion would be 100 to 150 people, but learned there are more than 800 men and women in the battalion. She approached the branch and her team members about collecting cards. They collected 1,048 holiday cards, 1,400 candy canes, 4,400 other candies, and $445.29 in cash donations in four weeks. The cash donations paid for the 15 boxes of cards and candy shipped overseas as well as the purchase of the candy. The remaining $%109.65 was donated to Homes for Our Troops, one of Mazuma's charities. Left over cards were donated to team member Ben Monroe's unite in Texas, to the American Legion to be used in Christmas packages sent to Iraq and Afghanistan, and to the Veteran's Administration. 


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