WASHINGTON -- Thanksgiving and Christmas were a few months away and Stephanie Abarbanel, senior articles editor for Woman's Day magazine, started thinking about service members deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan not being home with their families -- particularly their children -- during the holidays.
Her compassion for those left behind prompted her to do something to help.
"We were so moved by the fact that so many families would not have their loved ones home for Christmas, we decided to do a fund-raiser to try to raise money for the families and children around the country."
Abarbanel was presented a plaque during the Armed Services YMCA 18th annual recognition luncheon May 12 on Capitol Hill, thanking her and the magazine for helping service members and their families. The plaque was made up of children's artwork from the ASYMCA's 2004 annual art contest affixed to ceramic tiles.
After looking at what other organizations were doing, Abarbanel said, she and the magazine's editor in chief, Jane Chestnut, decided to partner with the Armed Services YMCA to do a fundraiser. "We did three different appeals in our magazine -- two in November and one in
December," she noted.
"I thought that maybe we would get $50,000, but my editor in chief, who devoted three pages of the magazine to this appeal, thought, 'Let's shoot for $100,000,'" she said. Money kept rolling in, and they ended up raising more than $300,000, which was distributed in November and December, partly for Thanksgiving Day baskets for needy families and then for Christmas toys.
Abarbanel praised the ASYMCA for its "marvelous job of distributing these funds so as much money as possible could go to toys for children around the country. We were so happy that we'd chosen the Y, because they did such an excellent job. So this year, we're going to do it again."
The idea "was just being a loyal American," Abarbanel said. Her enthusiasm about the project was so contagious that Chestnut caught the bug and they did the fund-raiser together, she added.
Pointing out that people all over the country raised money for the project, Abarbanel said many had bake sales to raise money. Some children, she added, said they hadn't asked for birthday presents so the money could go to the YMCA.
"We have letters from around the country about the fund-raiser," she said. "We also have letters from families that said things like, 'I didn't know how I was going to make Christmas this year for my children.
Then all of a sudden this beautiful gift basket arrived filled with toys and food. Thank you so much.' So we know we had a tremendous impact around the country thanks to the Y distributing this money."
Retired Navy Rear Adm. S. Frank Gallo, national ASYMCA executive director, said Abarbanel found his organization on the Internet and called him to discuss what the organization does and for whom. He told her about ASYMCA's educational, recreational, social and spiritual programs for service members and their families, Gallo said. She told him that "we seemed like a family support outfit, and she wanted to know more about us," he added.
Abarbanel asked Gallo to identify families to feature in successive issues of the magazine. He provided the names of three families from Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., three from Fort Carson, Colo., and three from Norfolk, Va.
"They did some telephone interviews with the wives," Gallo said. "They wanted people with kids and people whose husband was probably going to be gone for the holidays.
The magazine then sent out freelance photo teams and took pictures of the families and printed one page in each of the three editions in
November and December.
"The articles talked about the families and the things they'd done and what it meant for the husband to be gone," Gallo said, and explained what the ASYMCA was all about.
The magazine plans to repeat the effort. Abarbanel said the hope is to raise even more money this year. "We're going to do pieces in November and December, and we're looking for corporate sponsorships," she said.