HARTFORD, Conn. –
936. That’s how many plastic Easter Eggs volunteers from the Connecticut National Guard Service Member and Family Support Center assembled and filled in one bin for the approximate 400 guests that were arriving for breakfast with the Easter Bunny this past weekend, and that wasn’t even all of them, there was another 1,064 more.
For over 20 years the Service Member and Family Support Center, or SMFSC, has been putting on this event. Although back then, it was a lot smaller according to Kim Hoffman, the SMFSC Director.
“We had mess kitchens, these long wooden buildings down at camp at the time before it was named Camp Nett,” explained Hoffman. “It was just like 50ish people and now it’s grown to this very large, very large, event for us, one of many social ones that we do throughout the year.”
This is the first time this event has taken place in person in recent history due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It truly is the first large event for us back in person,” said Hoffman. “It’s nice, I think people have missed the opportunity to come together.”
To facilitate this, SMFSC staff, which includes many volunteers, took all necessary precautions. To reduce the risks of contracting and spreading coronavirus, volunteers from the program were each assigned a different, yet important, role to mitigate risk factors and reduce the chance of exposure to COVID-19. The volunteers worked diligently to fill Easter eggs, blow up balloons and make bright and decorative paper lanterns. That’s not including serving in the kitchens, making food for the families of our service members and being on standby to clean syrup or any other messes that were bound to happen when you have a room full of excited children.
The end goal: to maximize the amount of National Guard families that can come together, enjoy some Easter festivities and possibly learn more about the programs and resources the National Guard has to offer, while at the same time, making some new friends.
“Our intent, with any of our social programs, is to get Guard families together to meet one another and to expose them to the programs we have available,” explained Hoffman. “Our hope is if you feel comfortable enough to come to an event you might meet another family that could become a friend, so when your Soldier is at AT (Annual Training), a long school, or deployed, you’ve made a couple of friends, you’ve put some faces to the names and things we email and maybe you’ll feel comfortable using a resource in the future that you might need.”
The families filed inside the gym of the Governor William A. O'Neill State Armory and immediately were met with tinsel lined archways and decorated tables and colored Easter baskets, all of which were prepared and set up by the volunteers. The smell of food lingered in the air.
“Children will select the Easter basket of their choosing,” said Hoffman. “They can eat breakfast first, whichever, but then we have different resource providers that will be out on the floor.”
Each of the programs under the umbrella of the SMFSC would have a station set up. The families would bounce from station to station, the children would receive gifts and goodies, while the parents or guardians learned more about earned benefits and options available to them and their families.
“The Child and Youth Program will provide information on the resources that are available for military children, child care options,” continued Hoffman. “They’ll (the children) get bubbles, and the parents will get some quick information that they can read later about what Challenge Program (National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program) has to offer.”
None of this would be possible without the volunteers. Hoffman would also go on to describe how the volunteers, and their work with the SMFSC, have continued to strengthen and build relationships between the community and the National Guard, whether it be at this event or any event the SMFSC puts on.
“They have their different niches,” explained Hoffman. “Some volunteer with us just for our Christmas events, some are volunteers in the Child and Youth area.”
Each volunteer would bring their unique set of skills and expertise to the table.
Some of our younger volunteers offer a totally different perspective for a very unique portion of our population,” said Hoffman. “A very sensitive, delicate age, I don’t think someone my age is relevant.”
Additionally, volunteering with the SMFSC has also kept the desire to serve alive in some of their prior service volunteers.
“Many of them, maybe, weren’t ready to go at age 60, but they had to,” explained Hoffman, talking about some of their prior service volunteers. “It gives them an opportunity to still stay connected to something that they loved.”
“It’s a huge benefit,” said Hoffman. “It, the manpower (the volunteers), gives us that extra exposure to families.”