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Thursday, Mar 23, 2017

Operation Thankmas targets area veterans

RIVERVIEW – With a turkey and Christmas tree prominent in a logo of red, white and blue, the staff at Riverview’s Serenity Meadows Memorial Park, Funeral Home and Crematory aims to launch a military appreciation event that will grow into an annual tradition.

Community members are invited to drop off gifts for troops overseas, with Serenity Meadows picking up the cost of shipping. Packing materials and light refreshments will be available during drop-off hours – 7 to 11 a.m. – on Nov. 11 at the park, 6919 Providence Road.

Operation Thankmas is the brainchild of Jennifer Allman, who as Serenity Meadows’ marketing director and cemetery administrator, set out to revive a lagging interest in what had been a more traditional Veterans Day offering.

“We’ve been doing a huge Veterans Day program for years,” Allman said, about features that included a color guard, honor guard, flag-folding ceremony, distinguished speaker and breakfast. “Over the past couple of years, with the growth of the Hillsborough County Veterans Memorial Park program, our attendance rate has gone down.”

Instead of going head-to-head with the veterans park and Rear Admiral LeRoy Collins Jr. Museum in Tampa, Serenity Meadows opted for “a packing party for the troops,” Allman said, at which attendees can ask for a small flag to place at a veteran’s grave.

Gifts will be sorted and sent in flat-rate boxes. The postage to send each 12-by-12-inch box is $15.88, Allman said.

“If you’re willing to fill up a box to send overseas, we’ll pay the postage to send it,” she added. “We’re going to take the money we spent putting on the Veterans Day program to send the gifts to troops between Thanksgiving and Christmas.”

Certain items are prohibited, according to Military Benefits, a nongovernment-owned, privately sponsored website, which Allman will use to make that determination.

Among those items that cannot be shipped are aerosol cans, alcohol, carbonated beverages, firearms and ammunition, flammable items, fruits, live plants, obscene or offensive materials, pork products, pornography and tobacco.

The list of suggested items to send includes aspirin, batteries, condiments, deodorant, eye drops, foot powder, Gameboy PS2/DS games, T-shirts and ball caps, hot chocolate packets, laundry detergent, mouthwash, newspapers, prepaid phone cards, Q-tips, sunglasses and toiletries.

Allman said people who have a specific service person in mind should come with a pre-addressed shipping label. Otherwise, Serenity Meadows will provide the names and addresses of intended recipients.

“Each box will receive a letter from ‘hometown Riverview and Brandon,’ letting them know the package is from all of us, as a community,” Allman said. She also plans to include a printed collage of pictures, showing the packing party in action.

“I want (the troops) to know that all of us in the community pulled together to do this and that it’s just not one person,” she said.

With a nephew and stepson deployed, Allman said it’s especially pressing for her to ensure Operation Thankmas reflects a strong sense of hometown patriotism.

“Almost everybody knows someone over there,” she said. “Working here, I’ve realized even more over time just how important veterans are and how important it is to keep patriotism alive in the local community.”

For information or a complete list of recommended items, call Serenity Meadows at (813) 677-9494.

Linda Chion Kenny can be reached at lindachionkenney@gamil.com.

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