Reaching Out for the Holidays

Reaching Out for the Holidays

Season of Giving project delivers Christmas to families of injured or fallen service men and women.

Providing Internet access and entertainment to service men and women on remote, isolated military bases around the world wasn't enough for the three-person staff of Semper Comm, a Springfield-based business that has already enabled 75 military families to connect with their loved ones from the jungles of Okinawa, Japan.

This year, Semper Comm has initiated the Season of Giving drive, through which five families in which a loved one has been killed or seriously injured in battle will receive holiday gifts, decorations and meals to provide a little of the Christmas spirit.

"We understand the needs of soldiers who have been badly injured and just don't have the Christmas spirit, and we want to help," said Lara Coffee, director of Semper Comm.

"We have been raising money to purchase gifts, decorations, trees, pretty much anything a family would need or want for the holidays," she said, adding that she had picked up 26 turkeys for holiday dinners one recent afternoon that would be distributed to the families.

The Season of Giving, which differs slightly from the Marine Corps' Toys for Tots drive in that Semper Comm receives a wish list from the families directly, Coffee said.

However, volunteers are needed in a big way, she said, for wrapping and distributing gifts as well as shopping for holiday items.

"We've received five laptops that are being reformatted and five game stations to give to the families," she said, adding that Semper Comm is also purchasing household items like blenders and toasters along with toys and clothing. "Anything they need we'll take care of."

Starting the week of Dec. 12, volunteers will be needed for gift wrapping and distribution. Donations of gifts will be taken through Dec. 15, she said, and anyone wishing to help out should e-mail her for a list of items needed to be purchased.

In the meantime, Coffee and Rachel Froehlich, two of the full-time staff of Semper Comm, and Barbara Meier continue with their work, providing communication opportunities for military personnel and their loved ones from remote corners of the world.

"People just assume everyone will have TVs and computers on their bases, but there are thousands of small bases without anything to keep them entertained or occupied," Froehlich said.

One base, in Okinawa, Japan, has been given Internet access at the staggering cost of between $25,000 and $30,000 a year, she said, and another base in Iraq will be online in time for the holidays, with five more in Afghanistan and Iraq ready to be online by next year.

"This is a labor of love," said Meier, who volunteers to write e-mails and photos with some of the service men and women in Okinawa. "I make sure every Marine that writes to us gets a letter back."

The military personnel have private rooms established for them to communicate with their loved ones back home, in addition to rooms that serve as open message boards for Semper Comm staff members and sponsor organizations, which help to keep them informed of life back at home.