Commissary shoppers welcome Operation Holiday Surprise

Master Sgt. Chuck Roberts
U.S. Air Forces in Europe Public Affairs

Spirits are high during the holiday season, but checking accounts don’t always follow suit.

So when Sheilah Franklin was preparing to pay for a shopping cart full of groceries at the Ramstein Commissary, she was shocked and pleased by a last-second intervention by Operation Holiday Surprise.

Clandestinely underway since Thanksgiving, the holiday initiative by the Ramstein Enlisted Spouses’ Association picked up the tab for yet another commissary shopper.

For Mrs. Franklin and her husband, Army Sgt. Derrick Franklin, the $78 they saved on their Dec. 30 trip to the commissary from nearby Miesau was a welcomed holiday surprise.


“That is just too good. Even when you’re down to your last dollar, you’ve got your angels watching over you,” said a misty-eyed Mrs. Franklin a few moments later in the parking lot as their grocery bags were being loaded into their car.

Similar scenes have been repeated about 200 times for commissary shoppers in the KMC, said Eva Culbreth, president of the Ramstein Enlisted Spouses’ Association. By the time Operation Holiday Surprise was scheduled to end the last shopping day of the year, RESA will have paid more than $14,000 in grocery bills for shoppers E-4 and below.

Their goal, Mrs. Culbreth said of RESA members, was to have a positive impact on the community during the holiday season. The reaction, said Mrs. Culbreth, has been “unbelievable, ranging from tears to hugs.”

Some patrons refuse to believe it when a RESA member steps in to wish them a happy new year and tell them to put their money away. A pregnant woman broke into tears at the checkout area the previous evening, and Mrs. Culbreth said the husband also developed tears in his eyes in the parking lot when the bagger refused his tip in keeping with the holiday surprise.

Grocery tabs picked up by RESA have ranged from about $40 to more than $500. Doing so has required last-minute close coordination involving the commissary director and cashiers who switched on a blinking register light when they had an eligible customer.

“The cashiers say it’s like being on ‘Oprah,’” Mrs. Culbreth said with a laugh.
Mrs. Culbreth and fellow RESA members said the timing of Operation Holiday Surprise seemed appreciated by younger servicemembers faced with higher bills during the holiday season, and in some cases the extra costs incurred during a permanent change of station.

It can be time for “counting your pennies,” Mrs. Culbreth recalled, noting that a little extra money for groceries is always a good thing because “everyone’s got to eat.”