Home visits like this one, in which U.S. Coast Guard recruits Cristian Gaytan, Robert Villeda Jr., and Joseph Boucher celebrated Thanksgiving at the Halbe home, in Ocean City, in 2019, as part of Operation Fireside, were eliminated this year due to COVID-19.  

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CAPE MAY - “Different” may be the operative word in 2020, as the coronavirus impacted nearly every aspect of life.

One of the latest areas to be affected is Operation Fireside, the American Red Cross program started in 1981 that offers recruits an opportunity to take a break from basic training and spend Thanksgiving and/or Christmas with a local family.

“It’s all about keeping the connection with the community,” said Chief Warrant Officer Timothy Tamargo, public affairs officer, Coast Guard Training Center Cape May (TRACEN), about the program during a pandemic. “It will be different this year. We want to give the recruits a sense of the community, still be connected with the community while keeping everyone safe this year.”

Instead of spending the day with local families, some 550 recruits on hand at Thanksgiving and another 400 at Christmas will watch video messages recorded by families who hosted recruits in the past. Former host families were also asked to send letters and cards to the recruits and to provide desserts.

“We asked some of our former host families to join a planning committee to help us figure out how we could keep the community connection,” added Mariah Mazerski, regional manager, Service to the Armed Forces, American Red Cross, New Jersey Region. “Some have even agreed to stay on to help us with logistics.”

Heartfelt video messages, cards and letters will be “supportive,” Mazerski added, often thanking the recruits for their service.

While the Red Cross did not solicit new host families this year, anyone wanting to get involved can search volunteer opportunities at https://rdcrss.org/35LeRGi or participate in the Red Cross’ Cards for Holiday Heroes program, she said.

Cards of thanks and holiday cheer can be sent without envelopes to military members, veterans, and their families at American Red Cross House, Holidays for Heroes, 6051 Doughboy Loop, JB MDL, NJ, 08640.


Families have been asked to send cards, letters, and video messages to recruits in lieu of home visits like this one, where George and Carole Sichosted U.S. Coast Guard recruits Shiara Mayol-Negron and Elizabeth Judge on Thanksgiving Day 2019, in Cape May.   

Because TRACEN is operating under COVID-19 precautions, which includes a two-week restricted movement program when recruits first enter the base, Tamargo said they are working out the details of how and where all the companies will be able to enjoy the holidays.

“Our goal is to give a sense of community without a break in the history of the program,” he added. “We want to keep everyone safe and do the right thing.”

To contact Karen Knight, email kknight@cmcherald.com.

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