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Wednesday, July 24, 2024


Operation Fireside Remains Altered Amid Covid Concerns


By Karen Knight

CAPE MAY – Operation Fireside will, once again, look different this year, as a result of the Covid pandemic.
According to a letter sent Oct. 27 to past and prospective host families, the American Red Cross is inviting members of the Cape May community to create holiday video messages and/or write holiday cards with messages for the recruits at the U.S. Coast Guard Training Center Cape May during the upcoming holiday season.
According to the letter from Nicole Runyon, regional manager, Service to the Armed Forces and International Services, American Red Cross of New Jersey, “As the Operation Fireside program celebrates its 40-year anniversary, it is our hope to keep the tradition of supporting the Coast Guard recruits through the holiday season despite it looking different again this year due to the pandemic. 
“We have carefully reviewed the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state and Red Cross guidelines, as well as current safety measures taken by the Coast Guard, and have determined that it would not be possible to ensure everyone’s health and safety with the traditional Operation Fireside program format this year.
“We share in your disappointment but know that it is in the best interest of everyone. It is our utmost desire to return to our traditional format for the program next year.”
Operation Fireside is a program whereby Coast Guard recruits spend Thanksgiving and/or Christmas Day with local families during their basic training.
To support the holiday meals with limited contact, the Red Cross turned to its partner, Wegmans, which agreed to donate desserts for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday in support of this long-standing Red Cross program.
“With your support of heartfelt messages and cards, and Wegmans’ support of desserts, we are hoping to continue to show our dedication and commitment while making the holidays a little sweeter for the recruits in Cape May,” Runyon said, in the letter.
Messages in the video and cards should be “positive and upbeat,” and not reference the traditional format of Operation Fireside “to ensure the recruits don’t feel like they are missing out.” The memo contained other tips and hints for the cards and videos.
Holiday cards can be dropped off or mailed to the American Red Cross, ATTN: Operation Fireside, 6051 Doughboy Loop, Ft. Dix, NJ 08640 by Nov. 15 for Thanksgiving and Dec. 13 for Christmas.
Video clip recordings for Thanksgiving should be uploaded to a Google drive by Nov. 10 for Thanksgiving ( and Dec. 4 for Christmas (  
Inquiries should be directed to Ken and Linda Ballan, Operation Fireside program coordinators, at

“At Training Center Cape May, we are extremely grateful for the dedicated service of the American Red Cross, who, for 40 years, has supported our recruits in training during the holidays through Operation Fireside,” stated Kathy Felger, commanding officer, Coast Guard Training Center Cape May. Since 1981, the Red Cross has strengthened community bonds by facilitating relationships between the Coast Guard and the local community in Cape May County, who graciously open their homes and families to nearly 1,000 recruits each year during the holidays.  

 Due to the long planning lead time and uncertainty with the Covid pandemic, this year we will be having a modified Operation Fireside program similar to what was held in 2020. Recruits will not be departing the base. We are optimistic that we will return to the traditional Operation Fireside event in 2022.” 

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