BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - A Texas-based organization wants to ease one burden for military families as they prepare to send their children to school next week. On Tuesday, Operation Homefront treated hundreds of South Mississippi children to a free school supplies shopping spree.
"I got a pencil sharpener. It's a fish!" said five-year-old Caroline Smith as she held up the bright, plastic object.
Many military families didn't have to go far to shop for school supplies Tuesday. That's because Operation Homefront brought its first "Back to School Brigade" event to Keesler Air Force Base.
The organization distributed more than 200-book bags to children whose parents are active duty or are wounded warriors. Then, each child got to pick 15-items from the school supplies tables.
"It's great! It comes in very helpful. It's basic stuff, but you know what, every little bit helps. So I really appreciate it," said Keesler Tech Sergeant Yolanda Quinlivan.
"Normally, I'm not here to do things like this with my kids. I'm typically deployed every other year. So this time, I felt OK, maybe I'll grab some stuff and bring it home to the kids and surprise them with it," said Keesler Tech Sergeant Quan Holmes.
"When we're overseas and we're worried about our families and we have our spouses back home that are trying to do so much by themselves, programs like this actually take a lot of the anxiety away from the deployed members, as well as the families back home," he added.
The 4,000 school items were purchased with money donated by customers of Dollar Tree stores in Mississippi and Louisiana.
"It's a true blessing, because some people aren't fortunate and the economy, some people can't afford the school supplies," said Amanda Carnes, a Seabee wife who was shopping for four children.
"The civilian population out there, they're looking to do things for the military and they don't know how to, and this is a great way. You'd be surprised people come up to us and they thank us, and on the flip side of it, the military families are truly grateful," said Spencer Hayman, Executive Director of Operation Homefront's Louisiana/Mississippi Field Office.
And that's one of the missions of Operation Homefront, to boost the morale of military families.
"These are all young people who are doing things for us that they've chosen to do, where they're looking out for us and our freedoms. It's a great way of just showing them that we care," said Hayman.
Operation Homefront plans to hold a holiday toy distribution in December, either at Keesler AFB or the Seabee Base in Gulfport.