Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. If you look past the commercialization, past the hoards of people trying to score the best deal or the best toy, there are a group of us who truly cherish the act of giving. And I don’t mean just to the people we know and love. I’m talking about giving back to complete strangers. I love that this holiday fills people with a spirit of charity.
Unfortunately, Christmas isn’t so merry for everyone. My husband’s Air Force career sent us to live in another country. For the third year in a row, I sit in my house, gazing at my tree and the few presents tucked beneath it, thinking how much better Christmas would be if I were home surrounded by my parents, siblings, and my niece and nephew. Despite the loneliness I experience, I still have my husband, pets, and friends to keep me company and care for. Most who live around me aren’t as lucky.
Last year, it was brought to my attention by a good friend of mine how many airmen living in the dorm buildings on base go almost unnoticed. She told me how at their previous base, it wasn’t uncommon for airmen to commit suicide due to the depression of being alone around the holidays. Her past experience, coupled with the #22needu (or #22needyou) campaign (which brings awareness to the nearly 22 veteran suicides committed every day), gave her an idea to hopefully ensure that no airmen would be driven to such a drastic choice over the holiday season. In December 2014, Christmas in Socks or a Box was born.
After jumping through countless hoops and cutting through miles of red tape with the base’s Legal and Public Affairs teams, we finally got the okay to move forward. Our plan was to take white tube socks and decorate them with fun Christmas pictures and sayings, fill them with a few pieces of candy, attach an anonymous note, and leave the sock hanging on their dorm room’s door handle for them to find. On the note, there would also be a hashtag that, if they typed in on either Facebook or Instagram, would lead them to an invitation to Christmas dinner with families who were willing to open their homes. That Christmas we passed out 500 socks on RAF Mildenhall, and there was not one suicide.
Through every headache and hiccup and hair-pulling moment, that was always the end goal. To make sure that these airmen don’t feel like they’ve fallen through the cracks. To make sure that they do realize that someone cares about them, whether we know them personally or not. When these servicemen and women sit in their dorm rooms, it can become very easy to succumb to depression. They’re away from family. They might not even have family to speak of. Maybe they’re new to the base and it’s been difficult to make friends. All of these things, coupled with days where you might only see 6 hours of sunlight, make depression’s thievery entirely too simple. This sock is our way of saying, “We see you, and we care about you.” In 2015, we passed out 468 socks.
But our mission isn’t just socks. In addition to the socks, we also pass out boxes to families going through a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) over Christmas. These families are having to spend Christmas in a hotel room. Sometimes they’ve been in the area long enough to have moved out of the hotel room and into their new house, but their household goods are still on a ship and likely won’t be here until February. For these families, we provide Christmas boxes. These boxes include a small table top tree, decorations, and candy for the families to use. When they are done, we take the boxes back, and the tree and decorations are reused for new families the following year. During a time of physical, emotional, and financial stress these boxes provide a little bit of relief and happiness and (hopefully) shows these families that their new military community is thinking about them.
In 2016, our goal is to complete the necessary steps to become a legitimate non-profit organization. We are currently 100% funded on donations. Sometimes the donations have to come out of our own pocket to make things happen. Becoming a non-profit would make it possible for us to ask different companies and businesses for donations and give individuals a larger sense of security when donating. We will be coming up with an official name, logo, and mission statement so if you are currently following our Facebook you will see some big changes happening! If you aren’t following us I highly encourage you to like and share with your friends so you can stay updated and find out how to get involved. If you’re super involved with social media you can also follow us on Instagram and keep up with this year’s hashtag, #rafmsocks.
In the middle of all the crazy busyness of the holidays, it’s easy to lose our spirit of charity. We become more occupied with making sure that we have everything we want. I encourage you, not just during Christmas but all throughout the year, to check on your loved ones, the veterans you know, or someone possibly suffering from a devastating mental illness. Let them know that they have your support and love, and encourage them to ask you for help if they need it. 22 veteran suicides every day is 22 too many. Be the person that brings light back to their Christmas season. I can promise you that if you do, the blessing you’ll feel will be tenfold.