If the local Salvation Army is called in to respond to a disaster, chances are one group of Marines won’t be far behind.
In the past decade, they’ve volunteered after hurricanes in the Gulf Coast, after flooding in Georgia and with other needs in the community.
And later this month, members of the Charlotte-based Marine Corps Disaster Relief Unit 1 will be on hand as the Salvation Army hands out holiday gifts and other items to needy families.
To Kellis White, volunteering with the annual Christmas Bureau is just a natural extension of the unit’s work.
Disaster, the veteran says, comes in many forms.
“A child not having presents on Christmas morning is a disaster to me.”
The local Marine Corps disaster unit is the first of its kind in the country, White said. It formed after the 9/11 attacks as members looked for ways to serve others after they’d left the military.
They’ve partnered with a number of businesses and community organizations over the years, providing food or other assistance.
The relationship with the Salvation Army of Greater Charlotte has been in place for much of the unit’s existence. In addition to helping with the Christmas Bureau and natural disasters, the Marines also have worked with programs to help the homeless and others in the community.
And the Christmas Bureau isn’t the only effort the group is involved with around the holidays. The U.S. Marine Corps Reserve has run its Toys for Tots program since the late 1940s, a tradition that still continues locally today.
“Christmas is a busy time for us,” said White, who served in Vietnam and is the food service coordinator for the relief unit.
The Marines help with a number of projects related to the Christmas Bureau. Last weekend, for example, they prepared and served food to participants of the 5th Annual Magical Toy Ride organized by a local women’s motorcycle club.
And when the Christmas Bureau opens the week of Dec. 17, the Marines will help with crowd control.
Six thousand families registered for help through the Christmas Bureau this year, requesting gifts for as many as 14,000 children. As many as 50 families can pass through the bureau every 15 minutes, said Shelley Henderson, director of communications for the Salvation Army of Greater Charlotte.
The Marines, she said, help the process run smoothly.
“It’s a job at the Christmas center that you don’t think about, but it is essential when you have that many families coming through in an hour,” Henderson said. “There just has to be someone here to keep order and who better than a Marine?”
Said White: “Our job is to make sure that their experience is as hassle-free as possible.”