To The Editor:

The American Legion Auxiliary’s Christmas Gift Shop program is not a new program. It is a program which each year helps to make Christmas a bit happier and brighter for our military veterans in our VA medical centers and veteran nursing homes. It was in 1935 at the national convention in St. Louis that the Christmas gift shop program was outlined.

Missouri has seven VA medical centers and seven veteran nursing homes and the veterans in these facilities will remember Christmas 2010 for quite some time all because of the American Legion Auxiliary who sponsors this outstanding program, Christmas gift shops.

Just what are the Christmas gift shops, you might ask. Let’s begin with several weeks prior to Christmas — representatives and volunteers at each of these facilities are busy preparing for the opening day of the gift shop. The gift shops are held the last of November and into December. Each facility selects its own date.

Now the opening day — picture if you will, entering a large lobby, hall or room beautifully decorated with Christmas trees, greens, holly and poinsettias. Long tables are filled with gifts of all kinds for all ages, small children, boys, girls, men and women. All items are new and all donated by American Legion Auxiliary units. Units not sending gifts donate money which is used by the representatives to purchase additional gifts. Prior to the opening day the veteran (men and women) who served our country are told that they would have the opportunity to select gifts for members of their immediate family at absolutely no cost. This indeed brought smiles and tears.

On this important day — opening day of the Christmas gift shops — some veterans in wheelchairs, some using canes or walkers are stunned at what they see. Veterans not able to leave their rooms are certainly not forgotten; as volunteers or representatives shop for them.

Gifts as we mentioned, all new, include jewelry, clothing, towel sets, housewares, toys, you name it, it is there! Units are asked to donate items they themselves would enjoy receiving or would enjoy giving to their loved ones.

In the room next to the gift shop you see a lot of Christmas wrapping, ribbon and gift tags. Volunteers, including American Legion members, are busy wrapping gifts. Some of the veterans take their wrapped gifts to their rooms, and plan to give them to family members during the holidays. Many veterans, because of distance and the possibility of not having family members visit them during the holidays prefer to have their gifts mailed. Oh, yes, as to cost, when the veterans are told that there was no charge, again smiles and tears!

If there is anything that puts one in the Christmas mood it is to attend one of these gift shops.

Each year, 2010 was no exception, the local American Legion Auxiliary Unit No. 218 made a very generous contribution to the Christmas gift shop program. The donation was taken from the unit’s poppy fund.

Come April or May, you will be asked to wear a poppy made by a disabled veteran. Just remember the American Legion Auxiliary’s Christmas gift shops and that your donation will help to make it possible for our military veterans in VA medical centers and veteran nursing homes to have a bright and happy Christmas in 2011.