Volunteers keep GIs fed
January 12, 2009
SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany – Troops flying out of this sleepy Air Force base in southwestern Germany don’t leave hungry.
Not if Keyra Elmo and the dozens of Operation Open Arms volunteers can help it.
The Spangdahlem community has rallied behind the homegrown program to deliver bags of goodies to U.S. military members deploying from Spangdahlem or transiting through the base on their way to or from downrange.
In three years, Operation Open Arms has given away more than 24,000 bags and raised more than $10,000 in donations, according to Spangdahlem Red Cross station manager Tom Smith.
The Red Cross’s Elmo, a volunteer herself, runs the program. She ensures there’s a ready supply of snack bags and volunteers at the passenger terminal to greet any incoming or outgoing servicemembers — goodies in hand.
Fourteen base squadrons take weekly turns calling the passenger terminal twice a day Monday to Friday to check on incoming planes. "Sometimes we get people diverted from Ramstein either going to the desert or coming back," Elmo said. She recalls one servicemember who told her "this was their breakfast, that they had flown all day" and were starving, she said.
Donations to purchase snacks come from the commissary and a number of other base agencies, as well as from individuals.
Elmo oversaw the bagging Friday of 1,000 treat sacks in the base’s Club Eifel. Like workers on a factory line, volunteers stuffed packaged cookies, granola bars, pretzels, chocolate candies, peanut butter crackers, smoked beef and powdered drink mixes in plastic baggies tied with red and blue ribbons.
Air Force spouse and volunteer bagger Sandy Sax said the work is repaid with genuine appreciation.
One servicemember ran after her at the passenger terminal after receiving a bag. He just wanted to thank her, she said, telling her it meant "’a great deal that someone’s here to greet us.’"
Sax was so touched that she cried all the way to the car.
"It’s a touch of home, a warm fuzzy,’" she said of the program.
Another Air Force spouse, Heather Alton, volunteers to show her support for the military.
"When we’re overseas, it’s kind of all we have, each other," she said. "The least we can do is make sure everybody knows we’re behind them."