For Marines, the gift of being 'home'

COSTA MESA — More than 100 Camp Pendleton Marines who would otherwise eat their Christmas dinners in the mess hall will enjoy home-cooked meals, thanks to scores of Costa Mesa residents who have offered them seats at their dinner tables.

The idea behind the holiday offering belongs to local businesswoman

Dottie Garrett, owner of Garrett Furniture on Harbor Boulevard. She had reunited briefly with her nephew, a soldier stationed in Hawaii, during a stopover he made recently at Los Angeles International Airport.

He was in transit on a homebound trip for the holidays, and that encounter spurred his aunt to realize that not all U.S. servicemen and women have an opportunity to go home for Christmas.

"I started to think about all those that can't afford to fly home for Christmas or have no family to go home to," Garrett said. "I thought, 'Wouldn't it be great just to fill up the empty seats at my own table with marines?' "

However, Garrett's initial invitation to a Camp Pendleton family readiness officer for two Marines to join her and her family for Christmas dinner provoked more eagerness than she expected.

"When I spoke to the officer on base and explained that we would like to host a few Marines for Christmas Day dinner, he laughed and said, 'That's all?' Garrett said. "As we talked, he explained that there are more than just a few Marines on base that will be having Christmas Day dinner in the cafeteria for many different reasons."

While a family readiness officer was unable Friday to supply a total number of Marines expected to remain on base at Christmas, Garrett has organized placements at family tables for about 122 marines so far — with another dozen e-mails still pouring in, she said.

In order to host a pair of Marines — they travel as a unit — a volunteer must be able to provide ground transportation for the Marines to and from Camp Pendleton on Dec. 25.

Garrett has to find enough volunteers to host an unknown number of Marines because Camp Pendleton officials "would rather disappoint a family with not enough Marines than disappoint a Marine without enough families signed up," Garrett said.

While one day of coming together with family to watch football and prepare food is an invaluable gift to a Marine, Garrett hopes that families will continue their contact with the Marines even after Christmas, she said.

"A lot of families can't afford to keep sending goodies boxes," Garrett said. "It's really appreciated and it helps them keep their sanity, especially during combat to remember what they're fighting for."

And it's not too late to help. Garrett is looking for families to volunteer a spot at their tables, but they need to confirm by Sunday.

How To Help:

What: Host a pair of Marines for Christmas Dinner

How: Must be able to provide transportation to and from Camp Pendleton for the Marines on Christmas Day.

RSVP: by noon on Sunday with Dottie Garrett at

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