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'Share the Joy' brings holiday cheer to junior ranks, families

Members of the Maxwell and Gunter Top 3 council “share the joy” by putting together Thanksgiving boxes of food items for needy families. Above, Senior Master Sgt. Robert Spaulding of the Air Force Logistics Management Agency prepares a box that will go to a Maxwell-Gunter family identified by first sergeants that is in need. (U.S. Air Force photo/Bennett Rock)

Members of the Maxwell and Gunter Top 3 council “share the joy” by putting together Thanksgiving boxes of food items for needy families. Above, Senior Master Sgt. Robert Spaulding of the Air Force Logistics Management Agency prepares a box that will go to a Maxwell-Gunter family identified by first sergeants that is in need. (U.S. Air Force photo/Bennett Rock)

Members of the Maxwell and Gunter Top 3 council “share the joy” by putting together Thanksgiving boxes of food items for needy families. Above, Senior Master Sgt. Robert Spaulding of the Air Force Logistics Management Agency prepares a box that will go to a Maxwell-Gunter family identified by first sergeants that is in need. (U.S. Air Force photo/Bennett Rock)

Members of the Maxwell and Gunter Top 3 council “share the joy” by putting together Thanksgiving boxes of food items for needy families. Above, Senior Master Sgt. Robert Spaulding of the Air Force Logistics Management Agency prepares a box that will go to a Maxwell-Gunter family identified by first sergeants that is in need. (U.S. Air Force photo/Bennett Rock)

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- On a chilly November morning, 25 volunteers from across the base gathered at Gunter Commissary to assemble 67 Thanksgiving baskets to junior ranking Airmen in need as part of Share the Joy, a holiday food basket and gift program administered by the Maxwell-Gunter Top 3, a council consisting of master sergeants, senior master sergeants and chief master sergeants.

The holiday baskets were actually cardboard boxes, as an ordinary wicker basket would crumble under the weight of all the goodies, which included turkeys, flour, cream of mushroom soup, stuffing, boxes of cake mix, cranberry sauce, bags of oranges and apples, canned goods and other treats picked out to make Thanksgiving festive. Once the baskets were assembled, they were picked up by first sergeants in their respective units for distribution for Airmen primarily ranked staff sergeants and below in need of holiday help.

Tech. Sgt. Phillip Kersey of the Gunter Non-commissioned Officer Academy coordinated the Share the Joy baskets this year, which includes two distributions, one in time for Thanksgiving and one for Christmas. Twenty-five more volunteers will assemble the Christmas baskets.

According to Sergeant Kersey, Share the Joy will boost the holiday larders of approximately 80-100 families. "Donations come from everyone," including organizations on and off base, said Master Sgt. Lakisha Pegues, Share the Joy chairperson. Although the true nuts-and-bolts coordination of the food baskets starts in October, the fundraising for the baskets begins the year before. The Top 3 are currently collecting donations for 2010 holiday season baskets. Interested parties should contact Tech. Sgt. Charissa Pipes, Share the Joy administrator, at 953-2786.

Those in need are referred to the program by a first sergeant or a supervisor, and the lists are compiled by first sergeants, who forward them to the Share the Joy committee. Sergeant Kersey said he feels honored to help make the holidays special for fellow Airmen. "I didn't understand the magnitude of it until I saw the list of names," he said. "It's a very humbling experience."

One of the volunteer basket assemblers, Tech. Sgt. Charissa Pipes, NCOIC, Military Justice, decided to pitch in when she received an email requesting volunteers. "I've heard about Share the Joy because someone in my office received a basket last year," she said. "I felt it would be a good thing to volunteer for this during the holidays."

Master Sgt. Jose Sanchez, NCOIC of the Air Force ROTC Southeast Region, also responded to the email. "Every year, I participate in this, Toys for Tots, and other community support programs during the holidays," he said. "If you have a chance to make someone's holiday special, why not?"

He also remembered when he was an airman many years ago and benefited from this program. "It's a good feeling to give something back to others especially our junior members," he said, "though the credit goes to the guys who coordinate all the details for this worthy program."

In addition to the food basket programs, the Angel Tree program coordinated by the Top 3 helps make Christmas brighter for 110 children of Maxwell-Gunter Airmen. Master Sgt. Don Wagnon, Angel Tree coordinator, said the children names are referred to the Angel Tree program at the same time as the Airmen are referred to the Share the Joy program. The Top 3 then call out to volunteers, who pick up index cards listing only the gender and age of the child so they can purchase gifts appropriate for the child. The toys are given to the children at the same time the December baskets are distributed.

Another holiday aid, the Airman and Family Readiness Center's food pantry, is used as needed to supplement the Share the Joy baskets and also throughout the year as requested, said John Harris of the Airman and Family Readiness Center. Donations come in throughout the year but amp up during the holiday season. Donors include students from the Senior NCO Academy, OTS and Maxwell Elementary School, said Mr. Harris.

"The food pantry is used all year round, but it really gets used during Thanksgiving and Christmas," said Mr. Harris. Anyone interesting in donating to the food pantry should contact Mr. Harris at 953-9694. Those in need, including those dependents with a deployed family member, should contact Andrew Tveit, family readiness coordinator. Airmen in need are also identified by first sergeants.