By Lesley Atkinson, Fort Lee Public Affairs

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FORT LEE, Va. – “A lot of children would not have a merry Christmas were it not for the effort of all of you here today. You have no idea – to imagine not having presents under the tree. You are going to bring some light and happiness to this very important holiday.”

Those are words from Governor Terry McAuliffe at this year’s Holiday Helper open house Dec. 9 at the organization’s toy store here.

First lady Dorothy McAuliffe and Virginia Delegate Riley Ingram also stopped in for a visit. Representatives from VDOT, DMV, and Keller Williams were paired with Soldiers to pick out toys and help with gift wrapping in the 3,200-square foot toy store.

The Holiday Helper is a private organization that operates on Fort Lee and is run by seven board members with the help of hundreds of volunteers and donors who make it all come together.

The program helps relieve the financial burden and stress on military families by providing gifts to their children during the holiday season. Holiday Helper provides toys for about 1,200 military children each year.

“You can’t have a ready Army if you can’t take care of your Soldiers,” said John Hall, Combined Arms Support Command deputy to the commanding general. “There is not a better example than this project we have here. Like the song, ‘It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,’ we are able to make it more of a special occasion for many children when they wake up on December 25th. Thanks to this military program, no child will go without.”

In her third time visiting Holiday Helper, Dorothy McAuliffe finds it an incredible program benefitting military families.

“They deserve every bit we can give them,” she said. “I want to commend the leadership here on post, the volunteers and the board members for their dedication. I was able to take some of our Soldiers through to pick out toys; they were just overwhelmed at the opportunity to have a little extra for their children. This event kicks off my holiday to be able to see so many giving back and the joy of those who receive.”

Myra Williams, wife of Maj. Gen. Darrell K. Williams, Combined Arms Support Command and Fort Lee commanding general, said this was her second year volunteering and she believes Holiday Helper is a wonderful way for the community to help the military.

“So many of our Soldiers don’t have the opportunity to be recognized in such a personal way,” she said. “It’s a great way for the community to reach out and try to make a difference in a Soldier’s life. By taking the people in the community and meshing with our military, we have been able to create a wonderful balance. It is a lot of work and love that has been placed into this; you can’t ask for anything more at this time of the year.”

More than 500 Soldiers had the opportunity to pick out toys for their children during Holiday Helper shopping days this year. More than 83 bikes were donated as well as newly decorated trees displayed throughout the store. The newest tree this year is the Hope tree and Gov. McAuliffe added his hope for all deployed soldiers’ “safe return.”