La Mesa Chamber helps military families for the holidays

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When I was a young enlisted sailor, it was difficult making ends meet. Even with housing support and all of the benefits like being able to shop at the commissary and the post exchange it was always a paycheck to paycheck way of life. Military housing wasn't available and the extra income of having a family didn't come close to covering the reality of the costs in living in the Virginia area. I had to live many miles away from the naval base, just to find something affordable, which in return gave me several hours of commute daily.

When I was a young enlisted sailor, it was difficult making ends meet. Even with housing support and all of the benefits like being able to shop at the commissary and the post exchange it was always a paycheck to paycheck way of life. Military housing wasn't available and the extra income of having a family didn't come close to covering the reality of the costs in living in the Virginia area. I had to live many miles away from the naval base, just to find something affordable, which in return gave me several hours of commute daily. It was always a financial struggle for many families in my position.

That is one reason that I love the La Mesa Chamber of Commerce's Annual Toy Drive for low-income enlisted military families in the La Mesa area. Mary England, the Chamber's president has taken this annual drive to great heights and pours her heart and soul into this event every year. She'll gladly say it wasn't her idea, but when presented with the challenge, she took it on with full speed throttle. And anyone that knows England understands that she never does anything unless it is the best that she can make it. She gets a lot of help from her board, her chamber friends, but she also takes a lot of responsibility on herself, going to local stores with coupons in hand, she laughs when she talks about the look on the people's faces that see her coming into the store to buy many toys with monies that have been donated. England knows how to get the best bang out of a buck and is a force to be reckoned with. But that, in my eyes, is one of her most endearing qualities. She runs a tight ship and manages to make the most with whatever she has. And what she doesn't have, she finds.

I am always amazed at how much England and the Chamber members manage to get each year. This year alone, the Chamber provided well over 2,000 toys for the children and gift cards for the families to spend on whatever they might need. As a low-income rank in the Navy with children, I know just how much this means to the families. Some of them are fortunate this year as ships come into port in time for the holidays and my heart goes out to those still out on deployment. These gifts, which come from the La Mesa community, mean so much to these deserving military families that defend our country and the ones at home that support their spouses, mothers and fathers that have chosen this as a way of life.

Other than the fantastic Chamber event itself, which is a community holiday gathering, this is a toy drive that is kept quietly between the Chamber and the organization that they team up with to get these gifts to these families. The organization and the families do not want to be in the limelight of such generosity for many reasons, including their own safety because of who they are and what they do. The fact that the Chamber embraces this and still does their very best to give these families in need a brighter holiday, makes this event a true Christmas gift of love and compassion, without anything in return. We do not get to see the looks on the children's faces as they walk away with three or four gifts, or the relief of the parents of having some extra cash for the holidays through the gift cards. It is a priceless gift, given in faith, love and devotion to a special community in need.

Although the La Mesa Chamber is not the only organization that works hard, without a spot in the limelight and helps families in need during this time of year, it is a cause that is near and dear to my heart.

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