COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Christmas came early for Jameica Lipscomb this year.
At least, for this Fort Jackson soldier and mother of three, trying to come up with Christmas gifts and all the trappings that go along with it just got a little easier -- thanks to one local group.
Lipscomb, who works in Human Resources at the Columbia military base, said moving and being deployed twice -- first to Kuwait and then to Iraq -- had made money tight over the past few years.
"This is a real blessing," she said.
Hosted by Blue Star Mothers of the Midlands, the second annual Operation Elf distributed hundreds of gifts Saturday to 10 adopted families in need who are stationed at the base. About a half dozen of the groups' members had set up at the Pickens Street American Legion Post near USC in Columbia, where they were loading trunks with gifts and generally having a good time together.
"I haven't looked at little 3-year-old toys in a long time," said Dena Jordan, of Columbia, who adopted one of the families that included a toddler. Jordan's adult son, Brett Jones, is stationed overseas and, like Lipscomb, is a sergeant in the Army.
A nonprofit service organization, Blue Star Mothers of America works to support those with children in the military. With about 70 members -- each of whose family has a connection to the military -- the area chapter supports each other and holds fundraisers to raise money for projects that benefit military families.
They also attend funerals to support Gold Star Mothers, or those who have lost a child in the service. That in itself, members said Saturday, keeps the seriousness of what their son or daughter has signed up to do ever present in their lives.
Jordan, whose son left for advanced training at Fort Bragg and then was later deployed with the 173rd Airborne to Afghanistan a couple of years ago, said there were a lot of tears "that first year."
"But (being in the group) ... helped me to make it through," she said. Now, she's involved with everything the group does, including the annual holiday toy drive.
"It makes me feel better to know this is helping someone else's child," she said.
In addition to presents, each family received an envelope of gift cards for anything else the family might need.
Fort Jackson executive officer 1st Lt. Tracy Ariza, who was picking up gifts to take to one of her employees, called the Blue Star Mothers a "true blessing."
Ariza said the public may not always be aware of the financial strain faced by soldiers -- who have to pay for everything from uniforms, boots, daycare, moving and other living expenses.
"Especially brand new soldiers," she said. "A private's pay can be quite low, and often they come into the Army with ... one or two children."
For Sgt. Lipscomb, who was at the American Legion Saturday with her three daughters, ages 10, 12 and 14, this year's Christmas is going to be even more special, she said, especially now that they're all together.
"It's been a while since we've had a real Christmas."