By Kayla Clark
USO Rota’s mission is always to deliver happiness to service members and their families both in-transit and stationed overseas, but the gift of kindness is even more critical this holiday season. With the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions on-base and in Spain, military families are unable to go home for the holidays this year, nor can they gather with friends in the Rota community.
So, the USO found a way to deliver both kindness and a taste of home this holiday season right to the hearts of the local military community.
This year, USO Rota hosted a “Thanksgiving Meal Brigade,” in which USO staff and volunteers provided turkeys and meal kits to registered families of enlisted service members with a rank of E5 and below. The kits came with many of the traditional holiday sides like stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy and cranberry sauce. The Naval Station Rota commissary provided the kits, while the USO distributed over 75 turkeys to military families in the community.
The USO team provided an additional 48 turkeys to U.S. Air Force families on Morón Air Base, about 80 miles away from Rota. The base is fairly remote and does not have a base commissary or Exchange. This means many military families have limited access to Thanksgiving dinner ingredients like big, traditional turkeys, which aren’t necessarily sold in the neighboring Spanish town of Morón de la Frontera. The USO Rota team worked with a few eager volunteers on base to provide the U.S. Air Force community there with a special Thanksgiving surprise – one free turkey for each family!
“The turkey delivery gave many families a much-needed morale boost, and it let them know that people do care about them, especially during the holidays,” USO volunteer Joël Pautrat said. “Many families were planning on not having a turkey due to the current travel restrictions and inability to obtain one in Morón. The faces of joy were priceless when people received their Thanksgiving turkey.”
After so many months of isolation due to COVID-19, it’s small moments like these that can truly brighten the holiday season for our military families stationed overseas.
“An act of kindness like this was exactly what the families at Morón needed,” military spouse Yvette Fischer said. “The families are greatly impacted by the COVID restrictions and the USO and its volunteers made everyone’s Thanksgiving possible.”
Meanwhile, back at Naval Station Rota, the USO team worked diligently to hand out turkeys and meal kits to the local community. The team set up a couple of days prior to Thanksgiving in the entrance of the commissary, dressed up in festive turkey hats and costumes to hand out smiles, turkeys and holiday cheer.
It was a gift of a meal, but also one of gratitude – a chance for the organization to thank service members and military families for the sacrifices they make on a daily basis, and to show them that the USO cares. It was a gift that ensured every family had the opportunity to create their own special memory this year with a traditional meal, even if they couldn’t go home for the holidays.
“The Turkey Brigade felt like a much-needed event, especially during COVID, where a lot of us area unable to enjoy the company of family and friends like we used to,” USO volunteer and military spouse Desiree Romero said. “The idea that a family may not have the means to provide a holiday meal breaks my heart, so it’s important that we have these types of events, especially being overseas and away from what we would think is a normal family gathering.”
“I think it’s important that we support each other not only during the holidays, but all year-long, and the USO does a great job of ensuring that everyone feels supported and celebrated.”
One of the other special gifts that occurred organically this year at Naval Station Rota was seeing community members come together and volunteer to cook homemade meals for the families in Restriction of Movement (ROM) on Thanksgiving.
In the military, a ROM is a limitation of personal liberty for a service member or military family for the purpose of ensuring health, safety and welfare. This year in particular, ROMs have been utilized to enforce quarantines or isolation periods to help stop the spread of COVID-19 within the military community. Although necessary for the safety of those stationed in Rota, being quarantined and isolated from others is an undeniably challenging thing to experience during the holiday season, which is why this support on Thanksgiving was so important.
“This year, some families stepped up and even volunteered to cook turkeys for the families who are in ROM,” USO volunteer Beth Balliet said. “It just goes to show you that there are still caring and considerate people out there in the world. I think we need that reminder, especially this year.”
USO Rota gave five turkeys to community members to cook and deliver to families in ROM, and two incredible USO volunteers delivered over two hundred cookies to those families the day prior.
“I wanted to do something to give the folks in ROM a little bit of hope, happiness, and a chuckle as I delivered cookies with a stuffed turkey [hat] on my head,” USO volunteer Jaime Hanley said. “I believe we as individuals have an opportunity to make a difference, even if it is on a micro level.”
While the cookie delivery was such a simple act, it showed the military families that their community was thinking of them and that the USO will always be there to support.
“It always feels good to be able to give back to our wonderful military community,” USO volunteer Meg Hanley said. “Especially during the holidays in these unprecedented conditions.”
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