$75,000 to military families

For those who celebrate it, Christmas is a time for families and friends to get together to enjoy each other’s company.

Dinners, parties and gift-giving are part of the seasonal tradition, yet for the more than 1,400 men and women in the Canadian Armed Forces, duty calls – and the duty can take them to far-flung posts around the world, often thousands of kilometres away from their loved ones.It is one of the sacrifices that military life requires, but Rick and Lillian Ekstein want to soften the blow as much as possible.

This year, the Toronto-area couple provided the families of Canadian Forces personnel stationed overseas with $50 grocery store gift cards to go towards their Christmas dinner. And for the soldiers posted around the world, they provided them with real maple syrup for their Christmas breakfast, as a symbolic and tasty reminder of home. The gift cards given to the Support Our Troops Fund, the program that provides financial support and assistance to Canadian Armed Forces members, are being distributed by Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services.

“Because of contributions from generous donors such as the Eksteins, Support Our Troops can help deployed members and their loved ones ease the burden of separation during the holiday season,” said Commodore Sean Cantelon, CEO of Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services.It was the least we could do, said Rick Ekstein, a businessman from Thornhill, Ont.

In a thank you card to the military families that accompanied the $50 gift, the Eksteins say: “We are indebted and grateful to you and your serving family member who is currently overseas.” The Eksteins sign the card “on behalf of the grateful Jewish community of Canada.”“It’s about saying thank you, especially at Christmas,” Ekstein said.A member of the Regional Council of the Queen’s York Rangers, a reserve unit in the Armed Forces, Ekstein has had the chance to interact with members of the military for years.

“It made me realized how lucky we are to have such qualified people in our military defending us,” he said. Ekstein said his business often takes him away from home and he spends prolonged periods away from his wife. “I know what it’s like to be separated on holidays and it’s not easy on (Lillian Ekstein) when I’m half way around the world. I credit my success on a supportive family,” he said.

Canadian Forces personnel are deployed abroad for months at a time. “It’s a very long time to leave your family alone,” he said. “People don’t know how hard it is for the families being alone for six or seven months. Lillian and I recognized that and we wanted to say thank you.” Altogether, the couple spent $75,000 on the gift cards and maple syrup.

And although it was a personal project, he thought it appropriate to include the Jewish community in his thank you card. “As Jews, we are living in one of the safest countries in the world, because we’ve got brave men and women in uniform around the world protecting our values and keeping us safe,” he said. For Ekstein, this year’s project is not a one-off: he’s starting to get word out to friends, family and colleagues, to reprise the program next year, and he’ll be inviting all Canadians to contribute to it.

He’s also calling on Canadians to visit the Support Our Troops website, to help military families this year. “It’s all about appreciation for how hard the men and women in the military work and about saying thank you, especially at Christmas,” he said.

Originally posted on <a href=”http://www.cjnews.com/news/canada/jewish-couple-gives-75000-military-families-christmas” target=”_blank”>Canadian Jewish News</a>

Holiday dinner delivers

As families come together this holiday season, some Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members and their families will be separated due to the deployment of Canadian troops around the world.

After hearing about their situation, Mr. Rick Ekstein, a Canadian businessperson and active member of the Jewish community from Thornhill Ontario, and his wife Lillian, decided to make a leadership gift to Support Our Troops. This contribution will help boost the morale and welfare of approximately 1,406 CAF members currently deployed overseas and their families. The families will receive supermarket $50 gift cards to help cover the cost of food during the holiday season.  Troops deployed overseas will enjoy pure Canadian maple syrup with their Christmas breakfast.

“The significant kindness and support from Canadians for our troops has been touching and overwhelming. Because of contributions from generous donors such as the Eksteins, Support Our Troops can help deployed members and their loved ones ease the burden of separation during the holiday season.  On behalf of Canadian Forces personnel everywhere I would like to sincerely thank Mr. and Mrs. Ekstein for their very generous gift to our troops and their families,”  –Commodore Sean N. Cantelon, Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services for the Canadian Armed Forces.

Recognizing the sacrifices that deployed personnel and their families make on behalf of all Canadians, the Eksteins were moved to give back.

“In speaking to some of the families whose spouses are serving overseas, we realize the difficulty they and their children face being without their loved one during the holiday season,” said Rick Ekstein.  “Lillian and I wanted to do something to say thank you to the families back home.  It is because of their support that their spouse is able to fulfil their duty to Canada abroad.  We wanted to make this small gesture to say thank you to the families and recognize their contribution to the success of our missions overseas.”

Support Our Troops helps to translate the generous contributions of Canadians into valuable morale and welfare programs and services for the whole CAF community such as financial assistance, grants for special needs, camp programs for children, scholarships, support for the ill and injured, and hospital comforts.

The Eksteins hope their spontaneous gesture will encourage other Canadians to donate to Support Our Troops to benefit eligible military families over next year’s holiday season.

Originally posted on Support Our Troops