If it’s true that the Army relies heavily on volunteers, then all is well here at Fort Hood. For the past eight months or so, I have been privileged to volunteer with a group of ladies who amaze me with their energy, enthusiasm, initiative and smarts. The organization we’re all a part of is called “Santa’s Workshop” and though I’d love to expound on how wonderful it is, my blog-space today is dedicated to the volunteers themselves. But to briefly describe it, Santa’s Workshop is a non-profit group devoted to helping financially-qualifying Fort Hood families provide toys and gifts for their children during Christmas. What sets us apart from similar charities is the soldier or his/her spouse comes to the workshop to hand-pick the toys for each child in the family.
And now, a little history: Wives of soldiers have been volunteering since the Revolutionary War, and most likely since medieval times when feudal “wars” were a constant. Their role was often a gritty one—nursing grievously wounded men alongside the battlefield, cooking and providing moral support. They would mend torn uniforms and socks, launder filthy clothing and bandages, and generally keep the “home fires” burning as best as they could. Actually, that doesn’t sound so different from today’s wife, with the exception of the creature comforts we now enjoy.
In today’s Army and military, volunteers perform myriad tasks that mirror “paying” jobs. Just a few examples include running meetings, organizing complex fundraisers and other large events, leading and advising Family Readiness Groups and approaching local businesses for support or donations. It is difficult to quantify, but volunteers Army-wide contribute roughly 500,000 hours each year. Last year, Fort Hood volunteer hours totaled approximately 184,000 hours with a calculated value of service equaling $2.5 million.
The 25 women on Santa’s Workshop Board have many of the skills required of corporate employees or even upper-level managers. For example, two of the volunteers are known as “toy buyers” and they are responsible for ensuring we have the same variety and quantity of desirable toys at the beginning of the shopping season as at the end. This is not as simple as it may seem. Toys are divided into categories based on age and gender and must be monitored and replaced when inventory reaches a certain level. These gals have been shopping since June, often sacrificing their precious family time (and garage space) for toys for needy families. Other board members have been organizing local fundraising events on and off-post since last July when we kicked off our “Christmas in July” shin-dig at Plucker’s Restaurant. There have been countless other fundraisers since then that require hours of planning and coordination. Still more ladies handle complicated accounting and computer issues, provide food for each event, or keep track of the volunteers themselves. (In addition to board members, Santa’s Workshop relies heavily on “Elves” during the shopping season. These men and women generously give up large blocks of their day to assist the families in choosing gifts for their children.)
Much has been written about how volunteering can hone possibly once-dormant skills and prepare a spouse to re-enter the work force when the time is right. If that is the case, these Santa’s Workshop ladies are all destined for success should they choose to work paying, full-time jobs in the future. (And by the way, I should mention that several of these gals have home businesses and other part-time jobs in addition to their children and family responsibilities.)
I am proud to be associated with this group of impressive women and know there are similarly amazing military spouses all over the world. Thanks for your unselfish contributions, ladies (and gentlemen) and Happy Holidays!