This morning at the local Military Family Resource Centre in Petawawa the Together We Stand Foundation honoured families of deployed military personnel on international missions by presenting them with gift card boxes just in time for the holiday season.
With military personnel, MFRC staff, foundation members and military spouses and military children in attendance co-founder Lillian Ekstein handed out the first gift card boxes of the season. While there were smiles of joy, there were also big hugs, along with a few tears, as the families were acknowledged for spending the holiday season without their significant other.
Landon French, President Together we Stand Foundation
The foundation, founded by Lillian, and her husband Rick Ekstein, both from families who immigrated to Canada after the Second World War, was created to recognize, thank and pay tribute to military families. The foundation sees military families as much a part of the armed forces as those who serve on the front lines.
Last year, on their own, the couple distributed 1500 gift cards valued at $50 to military families who had a spouse or partner deployed over the holiday season. After the successful reception of last year, the Ekstiens knew they had started something special and began reaching out to communities and more sponsors and donors.
This year the number has grown to 2500 boxes filled with gift cards and coupons valued at $300 from local Canadian businesses.
“We realized that while there isn’t nearly enough done for the military who are away or deployed, there wasn’t really anything that recognized the families of the military, especially families of military members deployed overseas,” said Ekstein.
As many military families may struggle with separation from their spouses during the holidays, the boxes give something special to them to let them know they are not alone.
LCol. Darcy Wright, Canadian Division Support Base Petawawa Personnel Services (4 CDSB Petawawa Pers Svcs) Commander, understands what it is like to not be celebrating the holidays with his family.
“As someone who has been deployed multiple times over Christmas, I can only imagine the challenges that you guys are going through,” says Wright. “Special milestones are missed, and that is hard for those soldiers deployed, and super hard for the families, especially for the young children do not have mom or dad home over the holidays.”
Myriam Kennedy, a military spouse in Petawawa also knows first hand what it is like to not have a spouse home for the holidays and is dealing with a deployment this year. She says she is thankful for the foundation and their support they have given to other military spouses and families like her.
Myriam Kennedy, Military Spouse
“We are two weeks away from Christmas today, and it’s a very timely received gesture that is appreciated. We have a lot of support here on base to support what we go through every day, but to have recognition from the civilian community means a lot,” said Kennedy.
In partnership with all 32 MFRC’s across Canada, Together We Stand has boxes at all locations for military families who have a deployed or soon to be deployed member, to pick up. Churches on bases will also have them available for pick up as well.
Lillian Ekstein presents gift card boxes to families of deployed members
To receive a box people need to “speak to their MFRC coordinator at their local base and we’ve been working with the MFRC coordinators across the country who will be reaching out to the families of forces members who are going to be deployed or who are deployed during the holidays,” explained Landon French, president Together We Stand Foundation.