Operation Holiday Joy Delivers Magic to Military Families!

Written by Jeanine Rickman

The holiday season is known for bringing both joy and stress. As a long-time military family, we know that the holidays affect families of active-duty service members differently. Military life brings unique challenges, which include not always being able to choose how or where we can celebrate the holidays.

Financial burdens can also add up quickly for military families. Most costs associated with travel due to displacements are reimbursed, but not immediately. During the holidays this can create more stress for military families that are already dealing with challenging situations.

Additionally, military families face difficult choices and sacrifices that make the holidays overwhelming. Which extended family can we see this holiday season? Do we have enough funds to visit loved ones? If we travel, what gifts can we afford?

Thankfully, the Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA) offers various programs that make the holidays brighter for military families. Operation Holiday Joy is an annual campaign that provides gifts for the children of junior enlisted service members. Operation Ride Home is a travel assistance program that reconnects service members and their families with loved ones during the holidays when they may not be able to afford to do so otherwise.

Turning the Unexpected into Joy

Not too long ago, my family experienced our most challenging Christmas. It was our first holiday that plans suddenly changed and we unexpectedly could not spend the holidays with my husband. It was also our first Christmas in a hotel room. Our budget was tight, so we were very grateful to have the gifts the ASYMCA provided us through Operation Holiday Joy.

If you haven’t experienced it, trust me — being cooped up in a hotel room with two teenagers and a young child over the holidays is a test of patience.

But, we made the most of it: I borrowed a small decorated tree from another military family, and we found a few small items to decorate our hotel room. We wrapped twinkling lights around a lamp and draped them off furniture. Afterward, I made a hot cocoa bar, baked cookies, and prepared a small feast using our toaster oven.

My son’s favorite Christmas gift was a set of Magnatiles, which he received from the ASYMCA. It was something that he had asked for but wasn’t in our budget. Even over a year later, he still plays with this toy most days. Teens are notoriously difficult to shop for, but the ASYMCA has thoughtfully covered this challenging age group as well. Our teenagers received gift cards which were put to good use buying much-loved books and art supplies, as well as a small game we could play as a family. We ended up having fun. We spent more moments together as a family than we had in a long time.

With the help of ASYMCA’s programs through this experience, our family gained resilience. Their support helped us face the challenges with solutions and positivity instead of feeling defeated when plans kept changing. What could have been seen as a disappointing Christmas turned into something magical.