White Sands Missile Range’s Army Community Service is known to many local families as the one-stop shop for military and civilian families in need during the holiday season.
From holiday meals, to holiday photos, ACS has ensured that every family within the WSMR community has a joyous holiday season every year.
WSMR ACS Coordinator Damaris Sullivan-Powe, who is in charge of two of the most prominent programs during the holiday season, said the acts of kindness have always been possible through the help of the giving community.
“We definitely live in a generous community and we’re very fortunate,” Sullivan-Powe said.
Every program is run through donations and Sullivan-Powe takes on the coordination as an additional duty.
Two of the most popular programs at ACS are Holiday Helping Hands, which helps provide one free meal to families during the holiday season, and the Angel Tree program, which asks the community to donate gifts to children of families who apply for assistance. There were 75 families who applied for assistance this year and there are 105 children in the Angel Tree. In 2014, there were 120 children in the Angel Tree. Sullivan-Powe said she suspects the number still remained high in spite of the 2nd Engineer Battalion departure because the installation now has an increase of Air Force families living here. The program has also recently began assisting civilian families. Of the 75 applicants 12 are civilians.
“The community probably wasn’t sure if there was still a need, I was surprised too. I was expecting 20 applicants, but the need is still here,” she said.
ACS also provides Christmas trees to military families, thanks to the assistance provided by WSMR Garrison Commander Command Sgt. Maj. Bill Wofford. Families can call and sign-up for a tree until Dec. 9, distribution will take place Dec. 11.
“Just call and we’ll put your name on the list,” Sullivan-Powe said.
In connection with Military Family Appreciation Month, ACS also offered free holiday family photo sessions in November with the help of a volunteer photographer. This year Kristy Coffin, WSMR’s first lady, volunteered to take the photos.
Last year the 2nd Engineer Battalion provided an immense amount of assistance by conducting their own toy collection which was donated to ACS.
Sullivan-Powe said the toys were used as stocking stuffers for Angel Tree children. However, she said even though they do not have that support this year, there are still plenty of giving individuals on post that will help fill the void.
“We’re going to do what we have to do to make sure each child has something to open,” she said.
Sullivan-Powe said the events are always well received through the assistance of anonymous donors, to include the local Association of the United States Army, the WSMR Fire Department, McAfee Health Clinic, the Air Force, Resources Management and WSMR employees like Laura Long, who makes Christmas treats for each family every year.
She said the Post Chapel always assists with monetary donations and this year was the largest donation they have received since she’s been here. WSMR Child Youth and School Services also provides their assistance by making stockings and stocking stuffers for the children in the program. Resource Management takes the time to help sort food and gifts as a team building exercise for the office. She said the ACS office also provides an immense amount of support for each program.
“You can’t do this alone,” Sullivan-Powe said.
Due to the program Sullivan-Powe said she always hears of great success stories, which makes every effort worthwhile. This year she said she was happy to be able to assist a family that had decided not to celebrate Thanksgiving because they were going to use their Holiday Helping Hands meal for Christmas. Within the same day Sullivan-Powe said she received a basket donation from First Light Federal Credit Union with all of the fixings for a Thanksgiving meal.
Sullivan-Powe said she was happy to have found a family in need to donate the basket to.
“Our priority is our military families, any branch of service: Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines,” Sullivan-Powe said.
Supervisors must sign-off on the application form in order to ensure that the applicant and their family are truly in need. However, Sullivan-Powe said each case is different. She said she doesn’t want to prevent anyone from applying because they need their supervisor’s signature or they were not able to obtain their supervisor’s signature.
“I don’t want that to be a deterrent,” Sullivan-Powe said.
ACS also provides monetary assistance for military families and dependents who have a need to travel during the holiday season or have unforeseen circumstances that come up. Assistance is provided through the Army Emergency ReliefFund, a private, non-profit organization. WSMR AER Officer Andrew Lucht said the program is mainly funded by donations from veterans and is intended to help fellow Soldiers or families in need.
“The goal is to keep you from going to payday lenders, who charge ridiculous fees, over the holidays,” Lucht said.
There are currently 64 angels left on the Angel Tree. The trees can be found at ACS, the Garrison Commander’s Office in Building 100, and the Post Exchange. Angel Tree gifts are due Dec. 14.
For more information on how you can help, or to apply for assistance or reserve your Christmas tree call (575) 678-6767.
For information or to apply for an AER loan call Andrew Lucht at (575) 678-1337, or Anna Maria Vestal at (575) 678-7441.