ELYRIA — Dawn Woodings had one goal Thursday afternoon.
She wanted every toy-filled table at the Elyria Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1079 to empty into the hands of military parents.
“No child left behind on Christmas, no soldier left behind,” Woodings said, waiting near the door of the South Abbe Road post so she could greet every person. “I wish a lot of military from Lorain County and the surrounding area come and take what they need. They are a lot of people hurting out here.”
Woodings, president of the Ohio Blue Star Mothers group and the local unit, Home Front Moms Chapter 60, said she has seen a lot of military families go without.
But she said what hurts most is the perception that military families are taken care of and not in need of help.
“Military men and women do not make a lot of money,” she said. “The spouses that are left home when their spouses are on base or deployed can’t work. They don’t have babysitters or money for babysitters. They have to make do on a very tight budget.”
Cheryl Hunt gathered toys for her four children as Woodings explained the plight of military families.
After filling two bags, she said she knew from personal experience the toll military life takes on families. Her husband is one of the thousands of wounded warriors, a solider who gave up his life with his family on multiple deployments only to return home wounded in immeasurable ways.
Eric Hunt is a disabled veteran. But he’s mobile, so most people don’t notice his injury.
“He has his moments when he can’t even leave the house,” said Hunt, 26. “On those days, it’s me who has to take care of him and our kids. But I knew what I was signing up for.”
Hunt said her husband served 12 years in the U.S. Marine Corps and did two tours overseas as well as one aboard a military ship. He was discharged in 2009.
It was years later when he was declared disabled.
“It took a while to get help,” she said. “You’re not fully aware of the organizations that can help and you’re afraid to be labeled as crazy, especially with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and TBI (traumatic brain injury).”
On Thursday, none of that mattered to Hunt’s 5-year-old daughter Alayna. The little girl just wanted to know if she could get one more puzzle. The gifts in the bag she was carrying — more like dragging due to the sheer weight of her haul — were intended for stocking stuffers and gift exchanges with young cousins.
Woodings didn’t waste time in sticking the puzzle in the bag.
“I wish we could do more,” she said. “We know the families are out there. We just need them to know we are here to help.”
Moments later, a woman clad in a sweatshirt and knitted hat walked in the door.
“You’re wearing an Army hat. Are you in the Army?” Woodings said.
“Yes, ma’am, I’m in the Army, and I have kids,” said the woman. “I just learned about this on Facebook and thought I would just come on up.”
The woman came armed with a small bag stuffed in the front pocket of her sweatshirt.
Woodings handed her a garbage bag and told her to get whatever she wanted.
“That’s how people come to us. Word of mouth, through Facebook, coming to our events or little notices in the paper,” she said. “We want people to find us. There is so much we can do.”
Based out of the Elyria VFW Post, Home Front Moms started in 2010 and is a chapter of the Blue Star Mothers of America. The nonprofit group supports military personnel and veterans, including sending letters, cards and care packages to deployed military personnel and supporting each other when children first go off to basic training or are deployed.
Because of the overwhelming requests for help, Home Front Moms will hold a second toy giveaway 3 to 7 p.m. today at Post 1079, 500 S. Abbe Road, Elyria.
Woodings has been on board from the beginning because her son, Justin Snider, was in the Army and served a year in Afghanistan.
For more information on the group, contact Woodings at (440) 865-9445 or firstname.lastname@example.org.