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Charitable event looking to continue success

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- Thoughts of the holiday season conjure up visions of family feasts filled with laughter and joy and thankfulness.

But not everyone has the same holiday experiences.

There are community and military members unable to celebrate due to financial hardship. Fortunately, a program has been in existence for more than a decade that's main purpose is to help these unfortunate folks.

"The Family-2-Family program has been in existence for 12 years," said Maj. Gwendolyn Taylor, 116th Logistics Readiness Squadron operations manager and project coordinator for the program. "We kick off Oct. 1 of every year."

Last year, the event helped 88 families, two-thirds of which were military and the rest were community members.

This year, the goal is being set higher.

"Our target number is one-hundred families," Maj. Taylor said. "We want to target about sixty-five military families and thirty-five families from the community."

In order for a program of this magnitude to succeed, dedication and volunteers are a must. Ways to help range from donating food and gifts to wrapping presents which will be delivered to families, Dec. 19-20.

"Starting the first week in December volunteers will need to go shopping, gift wrap presents and sort food from the food drive," Maj. Taylor said. "All anyone needs to do is contact my office and let me know when you would like to come and help out. No one is ever turned away."

All of the families helped through this program are nominated by their neighbors or co-workers. They have to meet certain qualifications and must be suffering from financial hardship.

"The family that is nominated must be in need of assistance that can not be obtained anywhere else such as the Airman Relief fund," said Maj. Taylor, who has teamed up with Pearl Stephens Elementary school this year to help more needy families. "They must be in a financial strain where bills, housing and food can not be paid or purchased. The member must be a technical sergeant or below, a single parent or a married, single income household."

The majority of donations come in the form of canned food and children's clothing but all contributions are welcome.

"Each child will receive two complete outfits, shoes, socks, underwear, T-shirts, coats if requested and a toy," Maj. Taylor said. "Also, household items like microwave ovens, blankets, dishes and even furniture, can be donated."

The history of the program began before the 116th Air Control Wing existed.

The 116th Mission Support Squadron Children's Christmas Party was established by Col. (ret) Jimmy Davis, former 116th Mission Support Flight Commander. Col. Davis personally funded a Christmas Party to feed children within the surrounding community of Dobbins Air Reserve Base.

"The party consisted of a hearty Christmas dinner and each child would receive a toy from Santa Claus," Maj. Taylor said. "Each year more and more children showed up for the anxiously awaited Christmas party."

When the 116th Fighter Wing moved to Robins Air Force Base in 1996, the Annual Children's Christmas Party became the 116th MSF Community Project which just so happen to coincide with the Christmas Holidays. Each year the 116th MSF would sponsor needy children within the community by purchasing clothes, shoes, coats and toys. By 1998, the need had become so great that the 116th MSF decided to solicit help from members of the wing using what is now known as the Annual Food Drive competition.

"The food drive competitions paved the way for the Wing, to not only support families, but also local non-profit organizations such as the Salvation Army, Warner Robins Food Back and the Macon Rescue Mission," Maj. Taylor said.

With the forming of the 116th ACW, came the name Family-2-Family and the beginning of a program that would eventually help hundreds of families.

"The name 'Family-2-Family' came from the premise 'from my family to your family,'" Maj. Taylor said. "Since the name change, the Family-2-Family project has helped over 500 families and 12 local non-project organizations."