Only a handful of tickets were still hanging on the Operation E.L.F. tree when Jacky Casci stopped by the NAS Whiting Field Fleet and Family Support Center (FFSC) the day after the tree’s annual debut. She selected a two-year-old child for her own family to sponsor for Christmas, and 10-month-old twins on behalf of the HT-28 Officer Spouses Club.
Casci, who is the squadron Ombudsman as well as a member of the spouses club, took her infant daughter and the tickets shopping. Four pairs of socks and two outfits for each twin, a toy piano and guitar, a kid’s play laptop and purse, and more all found their way into her cart.
“The spouses club is there to support other spouses,” she said. “We’re always looking for ways to help each other out, and we thought, ‘What better way than to help out a fellow military family with Christmas presents?’ Everyone thinks we have deep pockets and we make all this money, but we really don’t. We’re just average families trying to get by, and being able to help out another military family means a lot.”
Whiting Field’s Operation Embracing Local military Families (E.L.F.) is in its 15th year and is sponsored by the base First Class Association and Chief’s Mess. It’s similar to Angel Tree programs, and gives people an opportunity to purchase Christmas gifts for military personnel struggling to provide for their children. This year the program sponsored 85 children, more than doubling the number of children helped last year. The tags were hung on a tree Monday, December 9, and all were gone by the next morning. Donors purchased the gifts and returned them to the FFSC by Friday. Base petty officers wrapped the gifts with plenty of time for parents to collect them before Christmas.
“I’m very thankful I got there when I did,” Casci said. “Otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to participate!”
Angela Dunn, an FFSC receptionist and information and resource specialist, calls Operation E.L.F. her baby. It’s her third year in charge of the program, and she got excited just talking about it.
“I was a little overwhelmed when I saw all the cards, but everyone really stepped up,” she said. “It seemed like they were super eager to help this year. Without it, the kids wouldn’t have any Christmas. I’m really just so proud of what they’ve done.”
The base fire department, squadron commanders, ombudsmen, the chamber of commerce, the Whiting Field Branch Medical Clinic, even people working in the FFSC selected kids to sponsor.
“It’s such a joy to see the faces of the parents when they come pick it up,” Dunn said. “They’re so surprised by how much people put into the gift. It’s been such a huge success this year, and I’m so grateful.”
Jay Cope, public affairs officer for Whiting Field, shared her sentiments: “It’s a ‘We take care of our own’ type of program.”
The Chiefs' Mess looked more like Santa's workshop as 400 Operation E.L.F. gifts for more than 80 kids in 36 families got wrapped Tuesday morning at NAS Whiting Field. "We all try to come out here and support our community, especially with the furloughs and the economy," said Erica Roten, who's in her third year of wrapping E.L.F. presents. "If there's anything we can do to give back, we attempt to." Operation Embracing Local military Families (E.L.F.) is in its 15th year and is sponsored by the Chief Petty Officers Association and First Class Petty Officers Association.