Caring for Families Left Behind : Selfless volunteers tend to separation anxieties at holiday time

The month began with Christmas stockings being waved from Navy ships, as more than 13,000 Marines and sailors got under way from San Diego and Long Beach to join other military personnel from Southern California already on station in the Persian Gulf.

It’s a tough holiday season for all those left behind. But due to some remarkable efforts by volunteers in recent days, this difficult period somehow has been brightened for families deprived of spouses, parents and the opportunity to earn a second income to bankroll Santa.

It might be hard even for him to throw a party both generous and efficient for 2,000 children. But that’s what a group of volunteers from Irvine Spectrum Rotarians, local church groups and businesses did on Dec. 15 in a blimp hangar at the Tustin Marine Base. One pregnant mother, who had to quit waiting tables to take care of a daughter, gratefully acknowledged that the toys received would be among the few Christmas items that were not necessities.

Families also recorded video greetings to be sent to soldiers--a nice touch that is the high-tech equivalent of the letter from home. One Marine major said he hadn’t seen so much support for military families since World War II.


A few days later in Huntington Beach, Tina James, the wife of a soldier in the Mobile Inshore Undersea Warfare Unit No. 105 of the Naval Reserves, held a much smaller party. But it came from the same inspiration: bringing together families of soldiers who could not be home. James said that for her the 50 or so people gathered in her home were “my family for now.” Videotapes were made at that party, too.

These events can’t substitute for having husbands and wives at home. They do help bridge the gap for military families struggling to maintain normality under the clouds of war. The organizers have shown something special about the meaning of the holidays in a time of heightened international tension.