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OESC spreads holiday cheer through random acts of kindness

Rosalie Asuncion-Starr, Okinawa Enlisted Spouses Club president, surprises a U.S. Marine with a free gift card on Camp Foster, Japan, Dec. 19, 2013. The OESC donated $1,600 in cash and gift cards at installations throughout the island, paying for groceries, haircuts and meals to support active duty service members and their spouses. (Courtesy photo)

Rosalie Asuncion-Starr, Okinawa Enlisted Spouses Club president, surprises a U.S. Marine with a free gift card on Camp Foster, Japan, Dec. 19, 2013. The OESC donated $1,600 in cash and gift cards at installations throughout the island, paying for groceries, haircuts and meals to support active duty service members and their spouses. (Courtesy photo)

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- A woman peruses the aisles of Camp Foster's commissary with her daughter during the holiday season, pushing a cart full of groceries toward the checkout counter. Before entering the checkout line, she pulls her cart off to the side and begins to look through her check book register to ensure she has enough money.

It doesn't really matter though; she is approached by two women from the Okinawa Enlisted Spouses Club who politely inform her that they will be paying for her groceries.

The OESC gave $1,600 in cash and gift cards to enlisted active duty service members and spouses at military installations throughout the island between Dec. 18 and Dec. 22, 2013 as part of their annual "Random Acts of Kindness" event.

"From what I understand, the OESC has always done a 'Random Acts of Kindness' during the holiday season where they have gone to the commissary on Kadena or the shoppette and given gift cards or money," said Rosalie Asuncion-Starr, OESC president. "We decided at a board meeting a few months ago that we would bump it up and visit all the major commissaries."

The club opted to perform their random acts of kindness on different installations each day, and decided to expand the charitable event beyond traditional BX and commissary donations.

"We split it over a five-day period," Asuncion-Starr said. "We didn't just do the commissary and the BX, we did Subway, we did barber shops, if someone was sitting in the food court by themselves we surprised them that way. We just wanted to catch people off guard and really make their holidays special."

Approximately 25 families were gifted with free groceries and several spouses and single service members were treated to free meals, haircuts or merchandise from base exchanges. The generous gifts were funded by profits from the thrift store on Kadena, which is run by the OESC.

"Some people we spent $175 on and some people we paid for their Subway sandwich," Asuncion-Starr said. "It was very random, and everyone was really gracious and thankful, which was really nice."

Since they feel that giving back to the community is a reward in itself, club members said the reactions of the recipients of OESC's random acts of kindness were icing on the cake.

"We had some people that were in tears," Asuncion-Starr said. "We had active military that were in shock, they couldn't believe that someone would actually give them a gift card to spend.

"Of course when they cry, we cry," she said with a laugh.

"Just thinking about it brings tears to our eyes," said Micki Barboni, OESC charitable treasurer. "It was nice to go out and say 'thank you.'"

As OESC board members, Barboni and Asuncion-Starr said the club's main goal has always been to positively impact the lives of military personnel and their dependents.

"With all the budget cuts and everything that has happened in 2013, we felt that if we had the money in our account we wanted to show our thanks to the military spouses and their loved ones who are either deployed or work here on a daily basis," Asuncion-Starr said. "We wanted to make a difference in their lives."

The difference the OESC's random acts of kindness made this holiday season can be seen in posts recipients left on the OESC Facebook page. People posted thank you messages assuring the club that their generosity would be paid forward, which is exactly what the club wanted.

"We want people to take what we gave them and bring it to somebody else," Asuncion-Starr said. "We have set a legacy of gifting and kindness and we really hope that this stays year after year. We really want it to be a special thing for the military spouses from here on out."