Monday, August 10th, 2020

Military Friends “Operation Military Smiles” Toy Shop Delivers Joy To Veterans’ Families in Lynn

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December 18, 2019/LYNN by Gayla Cawley – Thanks to Operation Military Smiles Toy Shop, U.S. Army veteran William August will be able to provide gifts to his two young children this Christmas. Not only was August able to shop for free toys at the City Hall event Wednesday evening, he also won a bicycle for his 4-year-old daughter during the program’s raffle.
Being able to provide his daughter, Samantha, with a bicycle this Christmas is especially poignant for August since she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes two weeks ago. “It changed our life a lot,” said August. “We’ve been in the hospital for weeks.” The medical bills have been a burden for August, who lives in a veterans’ home in downtown Boston. He’s in need of permanent housing and is separated from his wife, but the pair continues to care for their two children.

August was one of 300 families who benefited from Operation Military Smiles Toy Shop Wednesday, a Military Friends Foundation project that has been held in Lynn for the past five years through a partnership with the city’s Department of Veterans Services.  Service members, veterans and families of fallen service members were invited to shop for free for their children and grandchildren. Each family could pick up to 10 toys.

The Operation Military Smiles Initiative was founded in 2011 by a group of local mothers who had lost their children in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The mission was to pay it forward in their sons’ memories by bringing smiles to military families,” said Sarah Sweeney, Military Friends Foundation executive director. “Military families make unique sacrifices and less than 1 percent of our population is serving in the armed forces, and if we can say thanks, we’re honored to do so.”
Coupled with a Brockton event held on Sunday and military installations held across the state, Sweeney estimated that more than 1,000 families were provided with toys this year through the initiative.

Toys were donated from all over the state, through toy drives from schools, businesses and individuals. In addition, the nonprofit raises $10,000 each year to purchase toys. Much of the fundraising effort comes from Tough Ruck, which is part of the Boston Marathon, according to Michael Sweeney, Lynn’s director of veterans services and Sarah’s husband.

“This is such a great program,” Michael Sweeney said. “It helps so many people. What I like about this event is it’s just a thank you. It’s not a needs-based event. It helps give people a little bit of help around Christmas time.”

U.S. Army Sgt. Jamila Kibirige, 29, said she appreciated that the drive will allow her to provide gifts to her 5-year-old daughter. She’s finding it difficult to get by as a single mother.

“It’s really hard,” said Kibirige, of Lynn. “It’s hard with the economy right now. I couldn’t afford a lot of gifts.”

Without Operation Military Smiles, Wilford McNeil, a retired U.S. Army sergeant, and his wife, Eula, said they wouldn’t have been able to provide Christmas gifts for their eight grandchildren and great-grandson this year.

“It would have been some hard times,” said Eula, 61. Wilford, 65, said the event helps a lot of military families. He said there’s a perception that service members and veterans are supported financially for the rest of their lives, but that’s not the case.
“You’re living check to check,” he said. “A lot of these people are struggling.” “They’ll all have smiles on their faces this Christmas,” he said.

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