As a military spouse and mom of three, Renee Van Allen has turned toward a variety of Operation Homefront Recurring Family Support programs throughout the year. Her family has participated in the Back-to-School Brigade, Holiday Meals for Military, and Holiday Toy Drive.
She first heard about Operation Homefront in 2017 when she and her husband, Army Staff Sgt. Andrew Van Allen, were stationed in Fort Bragg in North Carolina. The move to Fort Bragg came two years after Andrew went active duty in the Army and four years since he had enlisted in the Army National Guard in 2011.
“I have one of the (Cracker Barrel) rocking chairs that were gifted to families during a Holiday Meals event one year,” she said. “I remember stuffing it into the back of my KIA. I grew up sitting outside on a rocking chair, so to get this as a gift was pretty awesome.”
Andrew was often gone for training and Renee threw herself into the military spouse community at Fort Bragg. She tracked activities on social media. So many people would ask her about the events after the fact that she started a Fort Bragg group on Facebook. Eventually, the group had about 200-300 people. She would always post family events beforehand.
Renee would see information about Operation Homefront’s Star-Spangled Babies showers, which are designed to provide much needed assistance to new and expectant parents, providing them with information, resources and the opportunity to meet other families in their community, so they can start strong with their new one and stay strong for their family in the process.
Renee said that she thought, “oh that would be so cool. But, I didn’t have a baby and I wasn’t pregnant,” she chuckled.
But then things changed in October 2020 when Renee and Andrew were expecting a baby, and she got her chance to sign up for a Fayetteville, North Carolina, Star-Spangled Babies event. The shower was held about three weeks before Renee’s due date with her third child. She was among the 31 moms served at the event. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, volunteers and staff organized a drive-thru event where families picked up the varied offerings that included diapers, wipes, toys, blankets, and other baby items.
The drive-thru event was fun for her daughter Ada, 7, son, Asher, 4, and her mother-in-law who was visiting before the birth of little Abel, now 4 months.
“My mother-in-law thought it was awesome too,” Renee said. “I had two big kids in my back seat and they kept watching people bring over prizes and goodies and cupcakes and they thought it was so cool. They helped me open it all when we got home. It was definitely a neat experience. I’ve never done anything like that before.”
Renee was surprised Operation Homefront continued their family events during the pandemic. For her and the kids, they became a special outing to help break up the monotony.
“We actually did the Holiday Meals as well,” she said. “They had a Santa who came to the window and talked to the kids and gave us the little bags of toys and stuff and the kids thought that was super fun too. I think that especially during this last year anything that can uplift your spirits means a lot. It’s the memory that a lot of people will hold onto.”
At the beginning of 2021, the Van Allen family moved to Virginia. Renee said a friend took over the Fort Bragg Facebook group to make sure Operation Homefront events there continue to be amplified, adding “I just love your organization.”
She wants donors to know that what they do does not go unnoticed.
“I think it’s very special,” she said. “It makes you feel like as a military family that you are appreciated for the sacrifices that you make; for the time that’s spent apart. I think it shows a lot of appreciation for the service for being in the military.”
Operation Homefront’s Recurring Family Support programs are designed to help our military families so they can start strong and stay strong throughout the year.
Operation Homefront launched ‘Start Strong, Stay Strong,’ a national brand campaign in March 2021. The initiative brings much-needed attention to the dedicated service of our military families and the support that Americans can provide to build the stability, connections and comfort these families deserve to start strong in their communities and stay strong throughout their journeys. #StartStrongStayStrong. Find out more at operationhomefront.org/start-strong-stay-strong.