In the spirit of the holiday season, military families were recognized last Wednesday as the nonprofit Support Military Families came to town and partnered with Jacksonville’s McDonald’s restaurants to give free gifts and breakfast.
Hundreds of parents and their children arrived at the Jacksonville Commons gym to find a live DJ, McDonald’s mascots, McDonald’s breakfast, and enough gift bags for each family member.
SMF and the Dixon Food Group — franchise owner of all Jacksonville McDonald’s — held the event to honor the sacrifice of military service members and their families, who are often separated or far from home during the holiday season.
Sarah Butts attended the event with her son, Gabriel. Her husband, Hospital Corpsman First Class Jeremy Butts, has served 15 years in the U.S. Navy. While their family is used to moving around, they have learned to use local events to make the best of the holidays.
“I love these,” Butts said. “This is where I feel the military family, and that’s what we hang onto every where we go, is the military families.”
Diane Rumley founded SMF 10 years ago with her husband, Dr. Steven Rumley, after being moved by her faith to let military spouses know that God loves them, he hears them, and he cares about them.
“And He wanted us to let them know that through the simple act of the care package,” Rumley said.
Care packages are available for mothers, fathers, and children. For the mothers, the packages include clothing and jewelry, while the fathers get Carolina Panthers gear and items from Bass Pro Shop, and the children get toys, stuffed animals, and coloring books. Rumley said her nonprofit’s mission was to honor the sacrifices made here at home by military families.
“Every one of them should get the care package,” Rumely said. “That’s our goal.”
As a Christian-based nonprofit, each care package also comes with a Bible, Rumely said. She also gives care packages to military spouses as a way to get them all together in the same building to help forge friendships.
“Because they’re not usually in a group with this many of themselves,” Rumely said. “This is their tribe, this is their community, so there’s a lot of good things that comes out of this.”
DFG runs 28 McDonald’s across ENC and owner Wade Dixon purchased the Jacksonville market three years ago and operates six restaurants throughout the city. Tim Sollars, director of operations for DFG, said the company wanted military spouses to know they were appreciated.
“For us, it’s just about saying ‘thank you,'” Sollars said. “It’s not necessarily about what we give, but it’s more about just coming out here and taking the time to say ‘thank you,’ and that’s the biggest thing.”
Sollars’ father served in the U.S. Air Force for 33 years, he said, so he understands what military families go through.
“You didn’t go to one base and stay there, you moved and moved and moved,” Sollars said. “And every time in those situations it was my mom that had to figure out the housing, the school, the family, because the other spouse goes to work, so what are they left doing? They have to put a life together for their families.”
Sollars said DFG provided breakfast at the event because it was the right thing to do. Seeing military families appreciated is special to him.
“When I see stuff like this, it just warms my heart,” Sollars said.
Kelsey Puch came with her son, Branden, whose father, First Lt. Bryan Puch will be with them for the holidays.
“He was gone for two months and you could definitely tell he was gone,” Puch said. “So when he’s back it’s even better of a noticeable change.”
Puch appreciated all aspects of the event, giving children a fond memory when they often have to be away from their extended family during the holiday season.
“Just the fact that’s it’s a free program,” Puch said. “Just receiving any sort of holiday gift is beyond expectation to begin with and the food and just how friendly everyone is, it’s really a wonderful event that I didn’t even know existed until I found out about it a few weeks ago.”
SMF operates in NC, SC, and GA, according to Rumely. This Friday SMF will be in Fayetteville to give away another 1,000 care packages to military families, Rumley said. Anyone can visit the SMF website at supportmilitaryfamilies.org to sponsor a care package and chose to leave a personal note, Rumley said.
“It’s a year-around process,” Rumely said. “I just love the spouses.”
© 2019 The Daily News
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.