Thanking the Troops

Thanking the troops

Fort Bliss turkey giveaway helps soldiers, families

By David Burge / El Paso Timeselpasotimes.com

Posted: 11/21/2012 12:00:00 AM MST

FORT BLISS — Staff Sgt. Allen Labeth minces no words about what the annual turkey and Thanksgiving food basket giveaway means to him and his family.

“It’s a blessing,” said Labeth, who is married with five children.

Labeth, a Vernon, Texas, native, and his family were among 1,400 recipients of donated turkeys and gift baskets stuffed with nonperishable food items on Tuesday. The giveaway provided soldiers and their families with all the makings of a Thankgiving Feast.

“It would be a stretch (without this help), especially this time of year and with five kids to buy Christmas gifts for,” Labeth said. “This is absolutely awesome. It’s the community coming together for soldiers.”makings for a traditional Thanksgiving feast.

The annual food giveaway is organized by the El Paso Armed Services YMCA. The event costs $35,000 to put on, said retired Lt. Col. Jose Melendez, the executive director for the local Armed Services YMCA. It is entirely supported by monetary and food donations from individuals, businesses, organizations, churches and schools, he said.

“We couldn’t do this without the support of the community,” Melendez said.

The giveaway benefited junior enlisted soldiers — primarily sergeants and below — who have families and some National Guard and Reserve members. Recipients were preselected by their units based on need and family size.

“We want to tell our soldiers how much we appreciate their sacrifices and the sacrifices made by their families,” Melendez said.

For the first time, the event was held at the renovated Trading Post, 1717 Marshall, in the old Commissary building.

“We’re really excited about that,” Melendez said.

Leftover food will go to the food pantry at the Junior Enlisted Family Center at Fort Bliss. This organization is run by the Armed Services YMCA and provides help to junior enlisted families year-round.

Nina Carey is the coordinator for the Junior Enlisted Family Center and one of the driving forces behind the annual food drive and giveaway.

“We want to make sure that soldiers in need can have a happy Thanksgiving,” she said.

Besides donations from the community, the event received lots of help from Fort Bliss and its soldiers, the Commissary and its vendors, and volunteers from local high schools, including Junior ROTC units and National Honor Society students, Carey said.

Pfc. Zachary Gailfoil, a Michigan native, is married with two children. He received a turkey and a food basket, too.

It’s a way for the community to show it cares about soldiers, he said.

“It takes a load off,” Gailfoil said.

He will probably use the money he saves on his family’s holiday meal to pay bills, he said.

Col. Peter Baktis, the senior chaplain at Fort Bliss, said the food giveaway is a way to say “thank you” and support younger soldiers.

“It shows we as a community take care of our own,” he said. “It’s soldiers helping soldiers, along with (help from) the El Paso community.”