By Nicole Alberico
As part of USO Kaiserslautern’s Thanks for Thanksgiving event, the USO and senior enlisted service members in Germany gathered together to pack and distribute complete holiday meal fixings to junior enlisted soldiers and airmen.
Since 1999, the USO has been hosting the annual Thanks for Thanksgiving event at the Vogelweh commissary and has since expanded its efforts to the Baumholder area.
Volunteers – roughly 250 at Volgelweh and 30 at Baumholder – stuffed nearly 600 paper grocery bags with the traditional Thanksgiving ingredients.
U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Stephen LaRocque jumped in the assembly line at Vogelweh and helped stuff the bags – which were artfully decorated by on-base elementary school students – with holiday foods. He said events such as this one stir memories.
“I’ve been there, that lower enlisted soldier with a wife and two kids needing help,” he said. “The ability to ensure they have a happy Thanksgiving away from their larger family and are here by themselves is just awesome.”
According to USO Kaiserslautern’s Senior Operations Manager Casey Pizzuto, keeping the bond between soldiers and their home country is the foundation of the USO’s mission.
“Connecting service members to family, home and country is what makes this event important,” she said.
Once the bags were stuffed, the volunteers staged the goods to await their recipients. At Baumholder, where about 150 meal packages were distributed, soldiers walked up to the location to collect them. In Vogelweh, organizers conducted a drive-thru style event with two lanes, one for airmen and one for soldiers.
The USO and donating agencies provided everything from the turkey and roasting pan, to the trimmings and dessert. A walk-through of the Vogelweh commissary showed that each donated meal would have cost anywhere from $40-$50.
One volunteer, a senior enlisted soldier said, like the sergeant major, he’s been in the recipients’ boots and that’s one of the reasons he participated.
“I understand the struggle to make ends meet,” he said. “It’s the small things – knowing that someone may be thinking a turkey is ‘too much’ this year gets one.”
Just as he said that, a car rolled into his lane. Inside, a mother sat in the backseat with her infant daughter. As the volunteers loaded the trunk, she had only one thing to say other than thank you.
“You guys are awesome,” she said.
Sgt. James Keay, who just arrived in Baumholder with his wife and child from Fort Hood, Texas, said it best:
“This is a wonderful program for soldiers and their families. Especially this year for me as we just arrived here [and are awaiting on all our belongings still],” Keay said.
“This activity shows us how much this community cares of us. We are thankful for this and we will enjoy this special Thanksgiving at our new home.”
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