FORT LEE, Va. (Sept. 9, 2010)-A reorganized business model will ensure the annual Holiday Helper program here will continue to provide a generous assortment of gifts to local military families this December.

The Holiday Helper Association stood up and received permission to operate on Fort Lee Aug. 20.

While the Army Community Service will still partner with the private organization, HHA will help the program expand.

There will no issues with continuing the program’s success, as the board is full of people who are experienced with Holiday Helper. Karen McComas, who brought Holiday Helper to Fort Lee, chairs the board. Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Wayne Hall, former Fort Lee garrison command sergeant major, is the president of HHA.

While the HHA is a new private organization, talk of its creation has been around for a few years, said McComas.

“For me, I always thought Holiday Helper belonged to Army Community Service, because that was where my heart was,” she said. “But there were legal issues about people being able to solicit funding – as government employees we can’t do that.

“To make it the best for the service members, it was thought we would start a private organization and partner with Army Community Service,” said McComas. “As a private organization, you can hold fundraisers and ask for monetary help.”

While the program is changing hands to HHA, ACS will continue to partner with them to ensure its success.

“When I came to Fort Lee, I was charged with not letting the program die,” said Stephanie Parker, ACS officer. “As recently as the beginning of August, I was heading in the direction that ACS would lead the way. When the HHA stood up, we were excited about being able to help and partner to complete the mission.

“We’ve all agreed that the mission of supporting our service members is more important than who is going to do what,” Parker continued. “We just want to get the mission done.”

Hall, who has been involved in Holiday Helper for six years, said the program originally started out as a way to thank Soldiers.

“Over time, it just kept growing,” said Hall. Holiday Helper helped 700 children in 2008 and more than 1,100 in 2009. “You come to a point where you can’t grow anymore because of restrictions from being a government agency. A private organization bridges both sides, and between the Holiday Helper Association and ACS – we can grow the program and help more service members and their families.

“The benefit of becoming a private organization is now we can reach out and touch more of the outside community and gather donations as a way to thank service members around the holiday season for what they do for us every day,” Hall continued.

The partnership between ACS and HHA is important for several reasons, said McComas. ACS can continue to submit referrals to Holiday Helper through their programs.

“Stephanie and her team have their thumb on the pulse of the community,” she said. “They, better than anyone, know what the service member and family’s needs are. They will be the conduit for getting that information, and that’s the reason this partnership is so wonderful because they will be able to tell us what the service members need.”

The board members said they enjoyed being part of Holiday Helper because it gives them an opportunity to do something special for service members and their families.

“We can show appreciation for what they do every day,” said retired Command Sgt. Maj. Carlton Branch, former 23rd Quartermaster Brigade command sergeant major, who is the 2nd vice president.

Keeping the program alive was important to the board members as well.

“It’s important for all of those who are involved with HHA,” said McComas. “It’s more than we’re happy to be the conduit to keep this program going. It gives us a time to give back. I have several volunteer things that I do, but this is the one that has my heart.”

For more information or to make a donation, call a board member: Tina Locklear at (804) 931-1386, Susan Garling at 305-7599, Carlton Branch at 898-5438, Idian Hall at 586-8317, Wayne Hall at 614-8006, Cynthia Deveraeux at 731-4320, Karen McComas at 586-5694, Tracy Guyette at 731-3126, Mary Allais at (541) 207-5668, and Trishia Callahan at (703) 599-9514.

Donations can also be mailed to Holiday Helper Association, P.O. Box 5155, Fort Lee, VA 23801.