As dinner plates empty and the last drops of Thanksgiving gravy drip down the sink, the comforts of turkey-induced dreams break way to the disheartening realities many veterans, both home or abroad, will face this holiday season. In what’s traditionally meant to be a time of merriment and festivities, military families and veteran students of Weber State University might struggle to make ends meet.

“In October 2010, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs stopped break pay for students under a GI Bill, meaning veteran students had to find temporary work to support their families when school was not in session,” said Jennifer Comer, a student veteran and volunteer. “Last spring, close to 50 veteran students reported dropping out of school because they couldn’t afford to give up the job they had to get in December to provide Christmas for their families.”

In order to combat this trend and serve the men and women who served them, volunteer students and Weber State University staff are banding together in a combined effort with local nonprofit organizations and in-house drives.

Currently, the Student Veterans Affairs Office at WSU is hosting a food drive geared toward providing veteran students with the food necessary to feed their families over the holidays, while Veterans Upward Bound is continuing its annual tradition of its Shoeboxes for Veterans drive, which is in its 11th year. The drive, which provides shoeboxes full of essentials such as toothpaste, deodorant, clothing and toiletries for both homeless veterans and those residing in nursing homes, has seen overwhelming success by providing hundreds of boxes annually throughout the community.

Both drives are still accepting donations, and veterans in need of assistance can contact Comer confidentially at jennifercomer@weber.edu.

Additionally, Operation Adopt a Ghost, a nonprofit group founded locally in 2008 by Linda Larsen, donates more than 1,000 packages yearly to active-duty service members in Iraq and Afghanistan, allowing individuals or organizations to adopt soldiers or units to provide a personalized service through packages, letters and support. Deriving its name from Larsen’s son’s battalion, nicknamed Ghost Rider Task Force, Operation Adopt a Ghost supplies soldiers with much-needed commodities, such as deodorant, toothpaste, socks and shaving cream, while encouraging community involvement by working with clubs, organizations, church groups and WSU programs.

“Receiving letters from elementary students is always nice,” said Rey Medellin, an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran and WSU graduate. “But the best stuff came from a group of retired veterans who donated to our platoon. We got soap and shampoo, which is hard to come by in Iraq, and razors and a huge box of king-sized Snickers bars, which was freaking awesome.”

Students or staff interested in donating or volunteering can contact either Veterans Upward Bound at 801-626-7047 or the Veteran Services Office at 801-626-6039. Operation Adopt a Ghost can be reached at operationadoptaghost@gmail.com.

“Everything we receive is deeply appreciated,” said Jayrod Garrett, a student veteran and the managing editor of “Epiphany,” WSU’s nontraditional student literary journal. “But if you want to donate something that has inexpressible value, then give something of yourself by donating who you are. Make it personal. Show soldiers that there are real people out there who appreciate everything they’re doing, and you’ll make a difference that’s genuinely felt.”

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