BELMAR — The Belmar Fishing Club had to adapt its annual holiday drive to comply with COVID-19 restrictions, but in the end the group was able to raise $5,000 in gift cards for service members overseas.

Thanks to donations from members of the club, Operation: Holiday benefited members of the New Jersey National Guard serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, where service members could immediately use the cards.

While the fishing club sent the gift cards before Christmas, they did not arrive for members of the guard until January.

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Jean Groome, a member of the Belmar Fishing club who helped to organize the fundraiser, said that the club has a long tradition of sending gift baskets to service members overseas. Due to the global health pandemic, and the risk of spreading the virus, organizers had to find another way to keep the tradition going.

“We were able to help quite a few soldiers,” Ms. Groome told The Coast Star. “It was wonderful, it is always nice to help the soldiers. They are away from home during the holidays they are away from their families and they sacrifice so much. Especially this year with all the uncertainty, it felt extra special to be able to give them a nice little holiday surprise.”

Kryn Westhoven, of the public affairs office for the New Jersey Department of Military and Veteran Affairs, said that the gift cards went to members of the New Jersey National Guard Unit B Company, 628th Aviation Support Battalion out of Lakehurst. The unit is expected to return stateside sometime in the spring, he added.

Col. Jim Bagley, a U.S. Army veteran and a member of VFW Post 1838, helped to get the Belmar Fishing Club in touch with the unit.

“Christmas doesn’t come every day, but it did come in January this year for some New Jersey troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Col. Bagley said, adding that the fishing club has a “long tradition of generosity and philanthropy.”

“The gift cards were a way to communicate to our troops that they are remembered during the holiday season when they are away from their homes, families and friends,” he added. “This generous show of support was also a means to connect with our deployed New Jersey Guard men and women and assure them that the work they do on behalf of this country is valued, and their sacrifices at this time of year are very much appreciated.”

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