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Lionel Weidanz, son of a U.S. European Command soldier, helps hand out gifts Tuesday at an orphanage in Stuttgart. For the past four years, EUCOM staff members have collected Christmas gifts for local needy children.

Lionel Weidanz, son of a U.S. European Command soldier, helps hand out gifts Tuesday at an orphanage in Stuttgart. For the past four years, EUCOM staff members have collected Christmas gifts for local needy children. (Photos by John Vandiver/Stars and Stripes)

Lionel Weidanz, son of a U.S. European Command soldier, helps hand out gifts Tuesday at an orphanage in Stuttgart. For the past four years, EUCOM staff members have collected Christmas gifts for local needy children.

Lionel Weidanz, son of a U.S. European Command soldier, helps hand out gifts Tuesday at an orphanage in Stuttgart. For the past four years, EUCOM staff members have collected Christmas gifts for local needy children. (Photos by John Vandiver/Stars and Stripes)

Lt. Gen. John D. Gardner, deputy commander of U.S. European Command, delivers gifts to Stuttgart, Germany, area teenagers. EUCOM staff collected hundreds of presents to support a local orphanage and Stuttgart’s youth services department.

Lt. Gen. John D. Gardner, deputy commander of U.S. European Command, delivers gifts to Stuttgart, Germany, area teenagers. EUCOM staff collected hundreds of presents to support a local orphanage and Stuttgart’s youth services department. ()

STUTTGART, Germany — The youngsters waited patiently for the songs and speeches to finish.

At an orphanage in the Bad Cannstatt section of Stuttgart on Tuesday, children huddled together as stacks of gifts donated by U.S. European Command were about to be delivered.

Following the speeches, the children gathered around as one package after another was handed out in what has become an annual tradition. Each year, the EUCOM staff collects hundreds of Christmas presents for underprivileged youngsters in Stuttgart as part of a partnership with the city’s youth services department.

"We feel honored to be here today and enjoy part of your Christmas season with you," Lt. Gen. John D. Gardner, deputy commander of EUCOM, told the group.

For the past four years, EUCOM has collected books, clothes, electronic games and other toys that the children and their families otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford. And each year, the program has grown, with EUCOM taking special requests to ensure that children get something on their wish list.

Some gifts went to the children and teenagers who call the orphanage home. Other presents went to needy families whom the Stuttgart youth services department helps support.

Though the gifts were handed out Tuesday to dozens of families, many children decided to wait until Christmas to unwrap the surprises.

Franz-Josef Cämmerer, director of Stuttgart’s youth services department, said the donations are coming at an important time this year. Economic times are tough, both for families who don’t have enough for extras like Christmas gifts and also for social service groups who work with limited resources, Cämmerer said.

"You bring great joy to children, teenagers and their families who don’t have it easy and don’t exactly live on the sunny side of life," he said. "Your donation makes it easier for us to look after families who don’t have the financial means themselves to buy presents for their children."

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.

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