Guest blog by Angela Costa, Community Investment Analyst, CSX
As part of CSX’s Pride in Service initiative, which is focused on supporting the military community, veterans and first responders, I’ve been fortunate to volunteer at some really moving events that not only touched my heart, but positively touched the lives of many families. My latest service experience — and one of my favorites to date — was the Operation Homefront Back-to-School Brigade here in my hometown of Jacksonville, Fla. This was a special event, not only because of COVID-19 and the new “drive-through” protocols, but because I got to meet some amazing families and volunteers. In fact, I got to sit down with Sarai Pagan, an Operation Homefront volunteer who — along with her seven kids! – have also benefited from the program in the past. I love how she is creating a cycle of service by giving back to others like her. In hearing her story, I learned firsthand what this program means to military moms. Check out our conversation!
When did you learn about Operation Homefront?
My brother is a Marine, and as a military sibling I joined a pen pal program where I met my husband, David, who is in the Navy. As our family grew, we became involved with Operation Homefront when my husband was stationed at Camp Pendleton, California. Since then, we’ve lived in various locations including Virginia, Guam and now Jacksonville, where we’ve stayed in touch with Operation Homefront.
How did Operation Homefront support you and your family?
While stationed in California, we heard about Holiday Meals for Military, Operation Homefront’s kits for military families that include everything you need for a holiday dinner. As a young, growing military family, having a meal given to us meant that we could repurpose that money on rent or other bills and still have a wonderful holiday. This served as a huge financial benefit, but it also meant a lot to receive such a thoughtful gift. We also participated in an Operation Homefront Star-Spangled Babies baby shower where we received a rocking chair, which was a great feeling as this was the first one I had for any of my children!
What made you make the transition from benefiting from these incredible programs to volunteering to help other families like yours?
While we were stationed in Virginia, my husband moved up in rank in the Navy, and our family became more financially stable. We wanted to pay forward the support we’ve received and help younger military families that needed it now more than ever. I jumped in full force – I made myself and my family fully available for Operation Homefront for anything they needed, from picking up supplies, to volunteering at events, and even organizing our own events.
What has stood out to you the most, as a volunteer?
While my family and I were on the USS Gerald Ford, I organized and set up the ship’s first-ever Star-Spangled Babies baby shower. Operation Homefront helped contribute to the baby shower in which everyone went home with about $350 worth of items for each of the families participating. These families weren’t expecting anything of this magnitude, and the way Operation Homefront showed up was truly incredible. Every family walked out with items they needed to start their families, including car seats, strollers, and pack ’n plays. They no longer had to worry about how to pay for these items on their own.
How has the need for these services changed or increased due to COVID-19, and how have other military spouses been handling the pandemic?
Operation Homefront’s Back-to-School Brigades help alleviate the anxiety for families struggling to pay for supplies like backpacks, notebooks, etc., for the upcoming school year. It has been devastating to see the pandemic take a toll on military spouses – many of whom lost their jobs and critically need this support. This, plus the uncertainty surrounding school this fall, makes these events even more meaningful this year. I’m also familiar with Operation Homefront’s other services, such as Critical Financial Grants for basic family needs like bills and car repairs. This organization has really supported military families throughout the pandemic.
What advice do you have for other military families who may have similar needs that you did?
As both a past beneficiary family and a current volunteer of Operation Homefront, I’ve learned that the support from this organization is unlike any other. It’s really important that military families, especially young ones, take the help that is given and not be prideful, rather than face the financial and emotional challenges of being a growing military family alone.
Thank you, Sarai, for your insights and for taking the time to share your story. From all of us at CSX, we thank you and your family for serving our country and perpetuating that service through your support of other military families.
Through Pride in Service, our signature community investment initiative supporting military, veterans and first responders, CSX supports Operation Homefront’s Critical Financial Assistance grants, Back to School Brigade and Star-Spangled Babies programs. I had no idea when I met Sarai that she or those she knows had benefited from each and every one of these awesome outreach efforts! With organizations like Operation Homefront and community members like Sarai, we can connect our country’s military, veterans and first responders to what they need, when they need it most.