The North Carolina USO, Jacksonville Center, is now accepting food and money donations for its annual Christmas dinner.
The USO of North Carolina’s Jacksonville Center is gearing up for its annual Christmas Dinner and brand-new Santa’s Cinema event Christmas Day.
The dinner, which includes ham or turkey and all the trimmings, is free to active duty, dependents and retired service members with presentation of a military I.D.
It will be held from 11 a.m.- 2 p.m. Dec. 25 at the Jacksonville Center on 9 Tallman St., followed by Santa’s Cinema for Marines living in barracks housing, where the center will show “Diehard” and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”
Those attending will have a chance to munch on leftover turkey sandwiches and desserts. Also part of the Santa’s Cinema event are relay race games to keep the fun going all afternoon.
Amy Leuschke, assistant director of the Jacksonville center, said the games are a chance for Marines to get their minds off being away from home over the holidays.
“It’s a few minutes of laughter and a chance to make some fun memories,” Leuschke said. “The thought of Marines sitting in the barracks by themselves (on Christmas) makes me hurt.”
For the dinner, the Jacksonville center will be taking food donations up until 1 p.m. Christmas Eve. The meal is prepped by the USO’s team of cooks, mostly retired service members.
Items requested are side dishes such as instant mashed potatoes, bagged marshmallows, cranberry sauce, yams, stuffing, canned corn and green beans, pre-baked dinner rolls and holiday desserts.
A complete list of requested items can be found at northcarolina.uso.org, under the Jacksonville location. Monetary donations can be made via cash or check and delivered to the Jacksonville Center or online at northcarolina.uso.org.
At Thanksgiving, the Jacksonville Center served about 2,000 people and Holly Coffer, the director, said they plan to serve about the same number.
There might actually be fewer service members attending the Christmas dinner than the Thanksgiving dinner, because more people will be taking leave, Coffer said.
“If you have to choose between Thanksgiving and Christmas, you’re going to pick Christmas,” Coffer said.
Mobile units will deliver meals to Marines on duty at Camp Devil Dog, and the center will furnish to-go carryout boxes available for Marines coming in from Cherry Point and surrounding areas.
“The goal is to open up the center and allow service members to celebrate Christmas with their USO family,” Coffer said.
Coffer extended her thanks for the community support for the North Carolina USO, especially the Jacksonville chapter, where the center does all its own fundraising.
“It’s a huge team effort,” she said. “And it’s nice to tell service members how much the community loves them -- they need to know that.”
Next weekend, the Jacksonville center will be holding a breakfast 8-11 a.m. Dec. 23, its last event before the Christmas dinner.
“None of us would [want to] spend Christmas anywhere else,” Coffer said.
Reporter Kelsey Stiglitz can be reached at kstiglitz@JDNews.com or 910-219-8453.