’Tis the Season to Give Back


After two months of preparation, I pulled into Moon Lake recreational site at 6:30 a.m. on a frigid November morning. Joining me were 18 volunteers from our Army community. We arrived bright and early to help set up the backdrops and the props for the first annual Very Merry Military Mini photography session at Fort Riley, Kansas. I co-coordinated this event with my friend Amy, owner of Amy Valentine Photography. 

Originally launched in 2010 by photographer Laura Fleming, Very Merry Military Mini Sessions are an annual, one-day photography event held during the holiday season for the families of deployed service members so that they can share a piece of home and holiday cheer with loved ones serving overseas. The minis went national this year for the first time with volunteer-led events held at 23 military installations across the country, and even one in Germany. Each event consists of a team of dedicated volunteers and local photographers who provide one 20-minute session and 10 fully retouched images, completely free of charge, to each registered family.

When we arrived everyone was in such a good mood. The morning flew by as we were all eager to do our part to help execute the mission. A local cafe donated baked goods, coffee, and hot chocolate to help keep the families and volunteers warm — thank goodness because we ended up with two inches of snow! 

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Snow angels, snowmen, and snowball fights were lingering around every corner. This made it easy to entertain the kids. A craft table was also set up so the families could make Christmas ornaments and holiday decorations for their trooper downrange. 

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We had 30 families arrive, as promised, even though we were covered in snow. In addition, we had five professional photographers who were generous enough to donate their time and expertise for the morning. From what I could tell, each family was extremely impressed with the level of detail and professionalism from the volunteers.

The event lasted for more than five hours total and, believe it or not, the most rewarding part for me was working with the other volunteers. It became very clear to me that these women weren’t there just to check a block. They weren’t out early on a freezing Saturday morning just to say they volunteered, hoping to get their name mentioned in a newsletter.  They were there because what they were doing truly mattered to them, as it did to me. 

The volunteers deeply wanted to contribute and help out the families who could benefit from Military Minis. They knew that if they hadn’t already been in that family's situation, that given enough time, they soon would follow. What makes the military family such a special and unique one is the support and common understanding that is shared among families and neighbors. It's what keeps us going and what keeps us sane. 

This event was the perfect example of what it means to volunteer, and, what it means to take care of the people who make up our military community. It was a great event and I can't wait to participate again next year.

The holiday season offers many great opportunities to give back. Check with your local military installation to see how you can get involved. Programs like Operation Santa, the USO and local food pantries are a good place to start. How do you like to give back?’Tis the Season to Give Back