Operation Saint Nick a boon for troops' families

DULUTH — You’d have thought they swapped their police uniforms and business suits for redder, broader clothing this year, but the initiative wasn’t that literal.

The so-called Operation Saint Nick, one function of the service member support system known as Operation One Voice, provided more than $25,000 in Walmart gift cards to 250 families of wounded and killed Special Operations Forces families this holiday season.

“These families have been through a lot this year,” said Duluth police Lt. Bill Stevens, Operation One Voice CEO.

Since its activation in December 2007, the Christmas project has raised more than $73,000, thanks in large part to anonymous donations — of $10,000 or more — from a Duluth family, Stevens said.

Families received Walmart gift cards of $100 to buy toys, clothes or anything else they wanted. A few special cases have been awarded $1,000 cards.

Several families who’ve benefited live in Georgia, while others are spread across the nation, mostly near Special Ops Commands, Stevens said.

Stevens’ group works closely with agencies like the Care Coalition to gather the requests and needs of troops’ families.

“Most of these families are from the wounded-in-action category,” he said.

The Christmas project started with each Operation One Voice board member agreeing to adopt a family or two to provide with money. As word spread, the project was worked into the Operation’s budget as a perennial item. This year, an out-of-state family caught wind of the Saint Nick Project and contributed another sizable donation, Stevens said.

Gift cards were distributed across the spectrum of Special Operations Forces families, including Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine personnel.

Throughout the year, Operation One Voice partners with area schools to treat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to care packages, among other initiatives.

Stevens said he recently received e-mail confirmation that those packages have been reaching troops, brightening their Christmases one opened box at a time.