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News > Project Cheer: Goal is to support Airmen in need
Santa’s helpers
Master Sgt. Robert Worley, left, and Staff Sgt. Stephanie Meda, 334th Training Squa-dron, ring the bells outside the base exchange Friday to collect donations for Project Cheer as Army retiree James Willcockson makes a contribution. (U.S. Air Force photo by Adam Bond)
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Project Cheer: Goal is to support Airmen in need

Posted 12/2/2008   Updated 12/2/2008 Email story   Print story


by Staff Sgt. Tanya Holditch
Keesler News editor

12/2/2008 - KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, MISS. -- Project Cheer, an annual holiday fundraising drive for Airmen facing hardships, kicked off recently with a bowling tournament and bell-ringers collecting donations in various locations on base. 

The project's goal is to add a little holiday cheer to those less fortunate Airmen whose supervisors have identified them to a first sergeant, according to Master Sgts. Christopher Rash, 81st Security Forces Squadron, and Gordon Comerford, 338th Training Squadron, both first sergeants and Project Cheer organizers. 

Members of the first sergeants council organize the annual event and run it in conjunction with the Salvation Army's annual Angel Tree project. While Project Cheer gives checks for use at the commissary to Airmen, the Angel Tree provides toys for the Airmen's family. 

When a supervisor submits a name to a first sergeant, the name goes on both lists. 

"Ideally, the Airmen won't know they are nominated (for the project) since we work through their supervisors," said Sergeant Rash. "They could be our lowest ranking Airmen, single parents or someone who has experienced hardships throughout the year." 

The cause of the financial hardship isn't as important as taking care of all Airmen, regardless of rank, according to Sergeant Comerford. 

Last year, Sergeant Comerford made a Project Cheer delivery to an unsuspecting senior airman and his wife who told him that before the donation arrived, they weren't sure if they were going to have a Christmas at all. 

"It was a very tearful moment," Sergeant Comerford recalled. "They couldn't believe anyone would think about them. We exchanged hugs and tears -- that's what this program is about." 

The project, which began in 2004, issued 115 checks last year to Keesler members who were in a financial bind at holiday time. 

Single mother Staff Sgt. Marlena Gordon, 81st Dental Squadron, received a check and toys from the Angel Tree for her two children. 

Sergeant Gordon, who said she hadn't even heard of the project at the time, received a box of food, a check for the commissary and five or six gifts for each child. 

"It was a feeling I can't explain because I knew my kids were going to have a good Christmas," Sergeant Gordon recalled. "I didn't know I was going to get anything." 

She said the day she received the package, she and few others were told to meet at the front of the dental squadron before lunch. None of them were told why. Sergeant Rash met them there where he handed out a few unexpected packages. He then told everyone to take the packages home. 

"Once I explained to them that this was all for them, you could see the impact," Sergeant Rash explained. "It was measureable. First it was a smile, and then you could see the shock as they looked through their bags." 

"To know people care is a feeling you can't describe," said Sergeant Gordon, who said the best part about last year's Christmas after receiving the donations was seeing the smiles on her children's faces. 

"There are more people requesting essentials this year due to the economic situation," said Sergeant Rash. "The more folks donate, the more we can give back to Keesler Airmen." 

"We are just asking that people reach into their pockets and give what they feel they can give, whether it is 25 cents or $100," said Sergeant Comerford. "Every penny is appreciated. 

"It's not the size or the cost of the gift that matters," he added. "It's that someone stopped, took a moment and cared about them (the Airmen receiving the gifts)." 

"We want people to be genuine and their donations to be heartfelt," said Sergeant Rash. "That's what means the most." 

Money isn't the only thing Project Cheer needs to accomplish its mission. Also needed are volunteers to work shifts ringing bells, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday through Sunday until Dec. 14 at the main exchange, the gas station and the furniture store. 

Those wishing to donate, but who can't do so while bell ringers are working, can give money to any first sergeant. Additionally, checks and money orders can be mailed to Project Cheer P.O. Box 5053, Biloxi, MS, 39534-5053. 

For more information, contact any first sergeant.

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