Project USO Elf Delivers Holiday Gifts to Enlisted Families

Army SSG Shafonda Gore literally jumped with joy the moment she was unexpectedly handed two iPod Touch devices last night a Fort Belvoir, Va., in addition to a pile of gifts specifically purchased for her two young boys.

Corporate sponsors Ratheon, Microsoft, and ATK donated 150 bicycles to military families during Project USO Elf, Dec. 15, 2011, at Ft. Belvoir, Va. Several volunteers from each corporation also came out to help assemble the bicycles and deliver gifts.

“Are you serious?” she said as she suspiciously looked back and forth over her shoulders.

“A gift from us, for your service,” said Ashley Vanarsdall Burke, vice president of communications for DynCorp International, as she delivered the two devices, together with chargers and cases to the 17-year veteran currently undergoing treatment for Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress at Fort Belvoir.

Project USO Elf is a unique holiday gift program, run by USO of Metropolitan Washington, that matches wish lists from the children of junior enlisted, active duty families with local sponsors in the community, including corporations, organizations, families and individuals.

Employee volunteers from Raytheon, Microsoft, TASK, Inc., Lockheed Martin, ATK and The Boeing Company teamed up with the USO to build bicycles for 1,600 local military children, and last night, the finished bikes and other gifts were hand delivered to military families.

“This is such a great program,” said Burke, who enjoyed watching the reaction of unsuspecting parents when she added the iPod Touch devices to their haul. “To see the smile on their faces was just so rewarding. These families deserve all the help we can give to them right now, and I am so glad we could do any little thing to help during a tough time.

Ashley Vanarsdall Burke (right), vice president of communications for DynCorp International, adds an iPod Touch (one of 1,600 donated by DynCorp) to a pile of presents, fulfilling the holiday wish lists of junior enlisted troops at Fort Belvoir, Va

“Our company [DynCorp International] is 65 percent veterans, so anywhere we can reach back out to the military community and make a difference, we are there,” she added. When the USO called and told me how many children they had registered for the program, the stars must have been aligned, because at the same moment I had an overstock of exactly 1,600 iPod Touch devices. The USO is a great organization and programs like this are truly making an impact. We’re proud to be a part of it.”

Warren Stewart, program manager for military intelligence with Microsoft, helped build 50 bicycles last month at Fort Belvoir, and was also on hand last night to help with the heavy lifting.

“If building the bikes wasn’t rewarding enough, being here to personally give them to military families was over the top,” said Stewart. “I’m prior service myself, so giving back through the USO is a no-brainer. They’ve got my number, and I’m here to help with anything – anytime they call.”

Jodie Silverlock, an instructor with Lockheed Martin, has volunteered for years with her son, stuffing care packages with USO of Metropolitan Washington.

“Now he’s stationed in Afghanistan,” she said, “and we’re sending care packages to him,” said Silverlock. “Five years ago I would have never imagined, but here we are, and I’m so proud to volunteer for the USO.”

As holiday music echoed through the warehouse, cookies were passed around, and USO volunteers sorted through piles of red bags with smiles on their faces, individually calling out the names of families who had registered with the program.

“Holidays are especially important for military families who often experience extended separations,” said Elaine Rogers, president of the USO of Metropolitan Washington. “The continued generosity of the community makes it possible for USO-Metro to serve the troops and their families, and we are truly grateful for the support and generous donations from our corporate partners and individuals in our local community.” - Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

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