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Preschool students from left, Brookelynn Barton, Saul Perez, Jessica Jimenez and Paulina DeLaLoza carry their hot lunch back to their classroom at Oakley School's State Preschool program in Oakley, Calif., Monday, Dec. 9, 2013. This year the Share the Spirit program is putting together a holiday party for the families the school works with. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Bay Area News Group)

The holiday season is here and with it thoughts turn to sharing the season's cheer and largesse with family and friends and to giving thanks for what we have with those close to our hearts.

One group for whom the holidays are often a challenge is the military -- families who must face the holidays with the absence of someone dear or returning veterans coping with the transition to a new life.

A number of East County organizations are offering opportunities for the community to pitch in, to share their season's good will with military families, troops overseas and veterans newly returned home.

In Discovery Bay, Operation Creekside has teamed up with Brentwood's Heritage High School to assemble care packages for troops deployed overseas; and in Antioch, East County Veterans Resource Center is holding a Crafters Boutique as well as sponsoring military families for the holidays.

Creekside mission

Operation Creekside was able to turn its mission of packing quality items for troops and their families into a ministry at Creekside Ministry Church, under the guidance of Senior Pastor Scott Kirk.

For the past four years they've sent out care packages twice a month, all year long, averaging 50 boxes per month.

That's more than 6,500 boxes, containing granola bar, almonds and peanuts, Pop Tarts, corn nuts and individual sized snacks.

This December, as it has for the past four years, Operation Creekside has teamed up with the Law and Government Public Service Club at Heritage High School.

Students are reaching out beyond the school community asking for nonperishable food items that can be packaged and sent out to the armed forces in time for the holidays.

According to club President Dezmond Henry, the goal this year is to surpass the 568 care packets sent out last year and for this reason the student body is asking Brentwood residents to come to the school or to Heavenly Cheesecakes with food donations as well as donations for postage, as it costs $14.85 to ship one box.

Military Family and Friends

Antioch's East County Military Family and Friends (ECMFF), out of East County Veterans Resource Center, has a multi-prong approach to helping military families during the holidays.

Founded by Jeff and Josie Monaghan in 2006, the organization collects donations and gifts for needy military families of returning veterans and those with loved ones overseas.

"We get the community to sponsor families and then we collect gifts for them," Josie Monaghan said.

"We do up to 20 families, whoever we come across that asks for help or are referred to us.

Then we have a nice turkey dinner, we exchange gifts and have festivities for the families that come together at the Veterans Resource Center."

The group will also be holding their Holiday for Our Troops Crafters Boutique on Saturday, where artisan crofters will offer all manner of unique handmade items.

On hand will be vendors selling specialty candles, knitting in the form of lap blankets and throws, and cute birdhouses, among others, just in time for holiday gift buying.

The money raised will go toward purchasing items for care packages to be sent to troops overseas.

"They get socks, toiletries, snacks and we send in some extra Christmas help with ornaments and stockings," Josie Monaghan said.

Monaghan hopes the community will lend a holiday donation so ECMFF can purchase specific items they know the sponsoring families need as well as go toward the care packages that will be sent out.

Even after the holiday season has passed, Operation Creekside and East County Veterans Resource Center continue their work.

Operation Creekside with its twice-a-month care packages and Veterans Resource Center with weekly peer-to-peer mentoring and dinners for veterans.

This gives them the opportunity to meet with other veterans who can help them with transition.

"People can help by donating gift cards to local supermarkets or by providing dinners for those nights. So there's always a need for families to be supported."

  • What: East County Military Family and Friends' Holiday for Our Troops Crafters Boutique
  • When: 9 a.m.-2 p.m.
  • Where: East County Veterans Resource Center, 1023 W. Second and L St., Antioch
  • Info: 925-206-4113

  • What: Operation Creekside and Heritage High School care packages for overseas military
  • When: Through Dec. 18
  • Where: Items can be dropped off at Heritage High School, 101 American Way, and Heavenly Cheesecakes, 3101 Balfour Road
  • Info: Dezmond Henry, 925-586-1655