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Arnold AFB team members provide gifts for more than 180 area children through Project Christmas Wish

Press release writer: Bradley Hicks

The hottest gifts and best stocking stuffers seem to change each Christmas, but the support Arnold Air Force Base team members have shown to local children during the holiday season has remained consistent for more than decades.

Thanks to the efforts of those at Arnold, headquarters of Arnold Engineering Development Complex, Christmas will be brighter for more than 180 children in the area.

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Gifts purchased by Arnold personnel through the Project Christmas Wish toy drive were collected from the base on Dec. 12 to be wrapped and prepared for distribution.

Project Christmas Wish, formerly known as the AEDC Angel Tree, allows members of the Arnold workforce to sponsor local children from a list disseminated to base personnel and purchase gifts based on each child’s listed wants, such as action figures, bicycles, games and gifts cards, and needs, such as coats, shoes, socks and shirts. 

These children may not otherwise receive Christmas gifts from family members due to the financial situations and other hardships.

“The response from Arnold was intense,” said Staff Sgt. Kenneth Marx, financial operations supervisor at Arnold and organizer of this year’s toy drive. “We had 40-plus sign up within the first week and had 140 children signed up the second week. Receiving more and more gifts each week showed me how much this community cares.”

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Since the late 1990s, organizers of the toy drive at Arnold have worked with the Center for Family Development in Shelbyville. Arnold AFB is among the businesses and organizations that receive from the center a list of children in need of sponsorship. When this partnership began, there were around 30 children on the list provided to Arnold. As the number of people seeking support through the Shelbyville center has increased, so has the number of children on the list.

As has been the case in past years, the support provided by the team at Arnold this year helped ensure a greater level of success for the Center for Family Development in its effort to get toys to as many children as possible.

“I received confirmation that most of these children would not receive any presents this Christmas if it wasn’t for the donations from the Arnold community,” Marx said. “I believe our help greatly benefited the community and assisted in brightening the kids’ holidays but also lightened the financial burden on the families in need.”

Those at Arnold who purchased gifts were asked to drop off the unwrapped presents in the former barbershop in the Administration & Engineering Building where they would later be collected by employees and volunteers with the Center for Family Development. The response surpassed the available storage space.

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“Every child had multiple bags of gifts, which overflowed the entire barbershop, and I had to store gifts elsewhere,” Marx said. “We even had people who donated clothes as a ‘just in case’ for the sake of adding it to a child’s bag that may not have received enough clothes for the winter.”

The first call for help from base team members went out in November. A second call to help additional children would follow in early December.

The list provided to Arnold was at first made up of 157 children in need of sponsorship, and those wishing to sponsor were given a Dec. 4 deadline to purchase and bring the gifts to Arnold. All of the children on the initial list were sponsored by Arnold team members prior to the deadline. But, as the Dec. 4 deadline approached, the Center for Family Development again reached out to organizers at Arnold to see if an additional 24 children could be added and the deadline extended by one week.

Marx agreed, but he admitted he was initially concerned these additional children may not be sponsored due to the last-minute nature of the request. Those worries, however, were quickly quashed. The additional two dozen children were all sponsored within two days of the call for additional assistance going out.

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“Team Arnold stepped up,” Marx said.

Denise Lindsey, executive director of the Center for Family Development, expressed her appreciation for those at Arnold who signed up to sponsor a child this year. She added those at the center are “blown away” each year by the response from Arnold, as the base remains a significant contributor to what the nonprofit aspires to accomplish each Christmas.

“We’re just so thankful for the personnel at Arnold and your all’s effort every year,” she said. “I don’t even know how I can express our gratitude other than just to say, ‘Thank you so much.’”

Marx also had a message for team members across Arnold who sponsored a child during the 2023 Project Christmas Wish drive.

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“I want to say ‘thank you’ to all who helped donate and make this event a success,” he said. “We couldn’t have done it without you.

“It’s great seeing such a small community have a huge heart.”

Disclaimer: The Project Christmas Wish program is a private organization which is not part of the Department of Defense or any of its components and has no governmental status.

Staff and volunteers from the Shelbyville-based Center for Family Development join Staff Sgt. Kenneth Marx, third from right, for a photo Dec. 12, 2023, after loading the toys and clothing collected during the Project Christmas Wish toy drive at Arnold Air Force Base, Tenn. Members of the Arnold workforce sponsored more than 180 area children this year to provide them with gifts for Christmas. The gifts were collected by the Center for Family Development to be wrapped and prepared for distribution. (U.S. Air Force photo by Bradley Hicks)

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