MAKING CHRISTMAS MERRY: Program helps families enjoy holidays Published Dec. 21, 2006 By Holly L. Birchfield 78 ABW/PA ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- The 116th Air Control Wing and the Macon Chamber of Commerce have come together to help families share their good fortune with others this holiday season. Family-2-Family, a program started by the 116th ACW at Robins when it was known as the 116th Bomb Wing in 1996, originally gave people a chance to share the Christmas spirit with military families in need. This year, Family-2-Family assisted 87 families from the military and local community combined. The wing accepted requests to help families during the holiday from Oct. 1 to Nov. 15. Maj. Gwen Taylor, an operations officer in the 116th Logistics Readiness Squadron, said the program, which didn't officially take on its current name until 2000, reaches out to people who might not otherwise have a bright holiday. "The program was designed initially to assist military families during the holiday season," she said. "With the deployment ops (operations) tempo the way it is, there are a lot of military members who are struggling financially on every end. We did it pretty much to take care of one another." Ten years later, the Macon Chamber of Commerce has joined in the wing's efforts to make Christmas merry for not only military families, but families in need in the community as well. Chip Cherry, Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce president and chief executive officer for five and a half years, said his organization became involved in Family-2- Family to support Airmen who work hard to support our country. "We like to focus on the Airmen and families who are in need of assistance or maybe are having some difficult times," he said. "A lot of the lower-ranked enlisted personnel with families have a hard time making ends meet with the pay they receive." Mr. Cherry said the Chamber's donations in the program are just a small token of their abundant appreciation to the military. "At times like this, we want to be able, as a community, to say thank you to these men and women who are serving our country and putting themselves in harms way and their families are having to deal with them being gone on certain occasions or having to work long hours," he said. "This is just a small way to work with the wing to say thank you to those people who are making the sacrifice to serve on our behalf." Major Taylor said the program has grown a great deal since it opened its doors to both military and families in the local community. Commanders and first sergeants provide information on military families in need, while the Houston County Board of Education and Houston County Department of Family and Children's Services provide information on families in the community who need assistance. Judy Smith, chief of the 116th ACW public affairs office, said identities remain anonymous to those that adopt them. "You don't know if it's your neighbor," she said. "You don't know who it is. You know the children's ages, sizes and if they have a want for a toy for Christmas." Mrs. Smith said the program provides a list of required items to buy for families which includes socks, shoes, underwear, two complete clothing outfits and one toy. Anything given beyond those items is strictly voluntary. In addition to gifts, each adopted family also receives a box of food donated by Airmen in the 116th ACW, the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce and the Middle Georgia Food Bank. This year, the Middle Georgia Food Bank donated about 3,500 pounds of food to the program. The Macon Chamber of Commerce donated a large amount of non-perishable food items to the program as well as $2,000 in cash to be used toward buying commissary gift cards for military families to buy perishable foods, Mrs. Smith said. Mr. Cherry said he's proud of his organization's members who helped support the effort. "I'm very proud of our membership and our community and I'm proud of the men and women who serve our nation," he said. "We're just happy to be able to play a small part in saying thank you to these men and women for the sacrifices they're making, and hopefully this will make the holidays more enjoyable for them and their families." Major Taylor said the Atlanta chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars has helped with Family-2-Family since 2003, by donating food, toys and clothing to families. This year, the chapter donated Kroger gift cards to help keep families fed. The program is not just any other charitable cause for Major Taylor. "It has always been a project that I've worked in, mainly because I came from a large family," she said. "There were people who we didn't know that assisted our family. My mom was a single mother with seven children at home, so she needed help and people would often assist her. It's just my way of doing what has been done for me when I was young."