Naples, Italy - Naval Support Activity (NSA) Naples and Navy Region Europe, Africa, Southwest Asia (EURAFSWA) worked together to conduct Operation Help for the Holidays (OHH) in Bucharest, Romania, a gift-giving event, December 15.
OHH, which runs from November to early January, is an interdenominational outreach program designed to deliver gifts to needy children in EURAFSWA this holiday season.
The expansion effort is led by Cmdr. Manuel A. Biadog, NSA Naples' command chaplain, and Religious Programs Specialist 1st Class Juan Vences, EURAFSWA chaplain department acting leading petty officer.
NSA Naples Command Chaplain Cmdr. Manuel A. Biadog explained, "This COMREL is special because it works both ways. We are reaching out to the community, specifically the children who live just outside the base, and asking our Sailors to donate and volunteer and connect with them. It affects both communities in positive ways."
Biadog added that the outreach mirrors the spirit, deeply-ingrained in Americans, of giving to the homeless, the needy and the community, especially during the holiday season.
This year's OHH comprises five events -- four in Italy and one in Romania. The first outreach, the first "Buon Natale" event, was hosted by the Evangelical Baptist Church of Naples and held Dec. 7 outside NSA Naples. Appropriately, Dec. 7 was Italy's Festa della Immacolata Concezione, or "Feast of the Immaculate Conception," which is a very important Catholic feast that celebrates the belief in the immaculate conception of the blessed Virgin Mary. "Buon Natale", Biadog explained, is Italian for "good birth," which refers to the birth of Jesus Christ and is the Italian version of "Merry Christmas."
"It was our first year holding a gift-giving event outside the base," Biadog said. "It was U.S. military children, their families, and military members putting together humanitarian items and gifts for more than 100 children who live in the Campania region."
Already, after only its first two outreach events, Biadog said OHH has been successful.
"The Italians and Romanians have been extremely responsive to this outreach," he explained. "The children were so happy, so thankful for those gifts given by our families."
Biadog was keen and pleased to point out that OHH, and all COMRELs, not only positively benefit the communities surrounding our installations, but also benefit our community of service members and their families. Operation Help for the Holidays mainly focuses on children living in the region, of course, he said, but our own community of military children is learning the valuable lessons that there are many people less fortunate than us and that there are things, like the gift of giving and the reward of volunteering, that money cannot buy.
Biadog added, "Also, [OHH] has given a lot of morale to our people. Some of them, like the single Sailors, their families are not here. Some of the single Sailors came to me to tell me how they enjoyed it. They enjoyed giving gifts to those children, like they were a little brother or sister. And that's the whole idea -- to bring the holiday spirit home, here, by doing something for the community."
The last Buon Natale to be held in the Campania region, Dec. 21, will be held downtown Naples and will focus on reaching out to the local migrants therein. For each outreach, Biadog said he expects approximately 200 people to attend, including 100 children reached.
The final Buon Natale, a much larger event, is scheduled to be held in Rome. Biadog said it will involve the U.S. ambassador to Italy.
"We are looking at an attendance of around 500 people," he said. "These will not only be Italians, but migrants from Asia, African and also the former Eastern Bloc countries who are having a hard time in the community."
Unique this year is the outreach to Romania, the Craciun Ferecit (Happy Christmas), which was held Dec. 15 in Bucharest, Romania. Because it is outside the scope of NSA Naples Chaplain Department's operations, EURAFSWA Chaplain Department Acting Leading Petty Officer Religious Programs Specialist 1st Class Juan Vences worked with Biadog and accompanied him to Romania.
"This was the first religious ministries team to have gone [to Romania] this holiday season," Biadog said. "We conducted a COMREL, [in Burcharest] Operation Help for the Holidays, and [on the installation] taught a suicide prevention class, deckplate ministry, and, of course, conducted religious services."
To support Craciun Ferecit, boxes of donations were flown to Romania.
"Within those boxes were what we call 'shoeboxes'," Biadog explained. "I estimate there were at least 150 shoeboxes. "
Within these shoeboxes were toys, school supplies, hygiene items, accessories and a personalized note for each child.
Biadog said he was extremely happy with how OHH has gone so far and is excited to participate in the rest. He expressed his heartfelt thanks to all the volunteers and cited "this community outreach can only happen through the teamwork and dedication of our volunteers."
While Biadog is very pleased with OHH as it is now, within the next year he has plans to continue to expand the program.
"I work closely with the Region Chaplain, Capt. Thornton, especially now with the COMREL we conducted in Romania," Biadog explained. "I hope one day they will extend this program all the way to Africa, not just here in Europe. With our colleagues being in that part of the world where the region is involved, we definitely can help them with their outreach and community relations projects. So, the bigger vision from a strategic standpoint is to extend this beyond Europe to include the Middle East and also Africa."