Members of the U.S. military, their families and veterans could use a helping hand throughout the year, but the holiday season means these charitable efforts are in overdrive.
Facebook’s Wrapping Parties took place across the country the weekend of Dec. 14 and 15 and were hosted by individual members of the Military Mama Network (MMN). Charitable citizens across the state and beyond helped wrap gifts to be delivered to military families and veterans in need, so they could experience the magic and joy of the holiday season.
NJ Military Mama Network chapter leader Karen Schweighofer hosted one such party in her Cherry Hill home on Dec. 15, with a special appearance from former “Queer Eye” host Carson Kressley, currently one of the judges on Freeform’s gift-wrapping competition show “Wrap Battle.”
“I had always thought I was appreciative of the sacrifices our servicemen and women make for our safety and freedom, but I realize now that one can’t fully understand this lifestyle until someone they love served or is serving,” Schweighofer said during an email exchange with the Sun during Christmas week.
The desire to do her part hits very close to home.
“My son chose to graduate a year early to enlist in the U.S. Army,” Schweighofer related. “This came as a complete surprise. As a mother of four, I assumed he would head directly to college following four years of high school.
“His plan was well thought out and included pursuing college while training in his Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) and gaining valuable work experience. As proud as we are of our children’s choice to serve, nothing prepares us for the waiting, worrying and the unknown.”
The MMN fills that void, acting as a space where family members seek solace and knowledge on the internet and receive support they need. Local chapters of the network share the MMN mission and engage communities to address the needs of the military, their families and veterans.
It was a long and winding road from a desire to help U.S. military members to a network celebrity appearance at a local residence to publicize the effort.
Geriann Wiesbrook, founder of the Military Mama Network, was named a Facebook Community Leadership Program Fellow in September 2018. The program recognized 115 community leaders from across all Facebook platforms as extraordinary community leaders.
Military Mama Network launched its Inaugural Leadership Academy class in January 2019, with 153 attendees. The 14-week training — funding for which came through a Facebook grant — took potential leaders through an intense training regimen.
“It was here that the New Jersey chapter was born and I took on the role of leader, following completion of the academy, which MMN launched in May 2019,” Schweighofer related.
MMN expanded its reach by crafting five commercials based on one of its annual events, Mission Elf, where a little Christmas magic is brought to the children of deployed service members. The spots aired during NFL games, early-morning and late-night programming, on the Food Network and on Hulu. They can be found by visiting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oaK_XZh4xbs.
Facebook then followed MMN members into various communities to see them in action. They were surprised to learn that not only did Facebook select their chapter, but sent Kressley to join in the fun, Schweighofer explained.
“It was fabulous to come together with other NJ families to help our fellow military families,” she concluded. “This is what Military Mamas Network is all about — we’re 82 members here in New Jersey of over 18,000 nationwide sharing a common bond thanks to the power of Facebook groups,”
Looking ahead to 2020, Schweighofer said her chapter’s next mission is its first annual Christmas in July event. The impetus came about because her son and other active military noticed how giving tends to spike around the holidays and dwindle through the rest of the year.
MMN encourages family members, veterans, spouses and friends of service members to join the cause. Anyone that has a heart for the military is welcome by visiting: https://www.facebook.com/groups/militarymamanetwork/.
If members of the public are looking to connect to the New Jersey chapter, join the main group at the link above and someone will contact you.