White Sands Missile Range’s Army Community Service is 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 the resources they need for a joyous holiday season each 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.
Two of the most popular programs at ACS are Holiday Helping Hands, which help provide one free meal to families during the holiday season, through the help of food donations from the community, and the Angel Tree, which asks the community to donate gifts to children of families who applied for assistance.
“The holidays can be a very painful time for those that might not be as fortunate as others,” said WSMR ACS Director Patsy Gomez. “We are lucky at WSMR, to have so many people who do genuinely care about and want to bring a little holiday cheer to a less fortunate Family. I have a long list of individuals I know I can count on, and I have done so each year, to make sure everyone gets the help they need.”
There were 59 families who applied for assistance this year and there are 103 children in the Angel tree. In 2015 there were 105 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 a small increase of Air Force and Army families who are making use of the programs.
ACS also provides Christmas trees to military families, thanks to the assistance provided by WSMR Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Bill Wofford, who travels to Fort Bliss, Texas to pick up the trees and deliver them to ACS. Families can call and sign-up for a tree until Dec. 12. There are currently 29 people signed up for Christmas trees, the trees are on a first-come-first-serve basis.
“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 Tanya Weismann, WSMR McAfee Commander’s spouse and professional photographer, volunteered to take the photos. Gomez said they may be able to add additional photo sessions if there is a request from the community.
In 2014 the 2nd Engineer Battalion provided an immense amount of assistance by conducting their own toy collection and donated all of the toys 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 battalion’s void.
“We’re going to do what we have to do to make sure each child has something to open,” she said.
Every program is run through donations and Sullivan-Powe takes on the coordination as an additional duty. She said the events are always possible through the assistance of anonymous donors, the local Association of the United States Army, the WSMR Fire Department, McAfee U.S. Army 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. In 2015 the chapel provided the largest donation ACS has ever received. 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.
“To me, Holiday Helping Hands is one of the best things TEAM WSMR does,” Gomez said.
Sullivan-Powe said she always hears of great success stories, due to the program, that make every effort worthwhile. In 2015 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 fix-ins for a Thanksgiving meal, the donation went straight to the family who was going to skip thanksgiving.
“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 someone to be deterred 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 any unforeseen circumstances through the Army Emergency Relief Fund, 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 their fellow Soldiers in need.
“The goal is to keep you from going to payday lenders, who charge ridiculous fees, over the holidays,” Lucht said.
There is currently one Angel Tree located at the main entrance at the Post Exchange. Gifts for Angel Tree participants are due Dec. 12, unwrapped and with the angel tag attached to the gift.
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.