Families with soldiers on active duty gather at an Omaha-area family-support center tonight (Tuesday) to assemble care packages for their loved ones overseas. Sergeant Kevin Friday says it’s an annual tradition at the Lied Activity Center in Bellevue, Nebraska, at the Offutt Air Force Base.

Last year families came from as far as 200 miles away, and he says they feel it’s a great outreach for them, to be involved and share their experiences with other families that are going through the same situation they are. The center’s right on the base, in a building familiar to any guard and reserve family member who’s come to get a new I.D. card or help with personal issues.

The packages will be assembled from items provided by private donors and local businesses. They’re asked not to bring anything along with them as all the materials for this project are supplied — hard candy, beef jerky, sunflower seeds, lip balm, stationery and more. Family members choose items and pack them in their box, then fill out a customs form.

The Family Readiness Center pays postage to send them out in the mail the next day. It’s not meant to replace other holiday mail and gifts, but Friday says this is a way to help them send good wishes to the soldiers and also to mingle with other military families. A partnership between the Offutt Airmen and Family Readiness Center, the American Red Cross, Salvation Army, and airbase service agencies has put on this event for five years now, and includes the families of active Guard and Reservists in Nebraska and parts of western Iowa as well.

They do it every year and try for mid-November to beat deadlines for shipping packages overseas. Sergeant Friday says invitations went to al the groups that support families in regional communities and they’re expecting more than 300 people this evening. There’ll also be volunteers from the units to assemble care packages for single soldiers who don’t have families doing it for them.

“We’re going to touch base with all the different service members that are deployed.” The event will be a social gathering and a sharing of support for all the family members back here at home, organized by the leaders of the various readiness groups. They’ll be given a meal while they’re at the center, Santa will be there, a crafts table will be offering activities and a “video e-mail” station will let some talk live with their soldiers courtesy of the Red Cross.

Friday says it’s a good opportunity for families to gather and keep in touch with their loved ones overseas. This is the fifth year the event’s been staged by the Airmen and Family Relations Center at Bellevue, which also holds a “spring spa” and a summer pool party for military families.

Related web sites:
Family Readiness Center