A Long Island Nonprofit Helps Military Moms-to-Be through Operation Shower

Operation Shower, a Long Island nonprofit organization, provides baby showers for expectant moms of military families to help ease the burden of deployment.

When Sergeant Holly M. Anaya, 24, of East Meadow, NY was pregnant with her second son Josiah last year, she, like most expectant mothers, could have benefited from baby shower gifts. But Sgt. Anaya is an active duty Marine with the 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment in Garden City, NY, stationed far from her family in Missouri, so a shower wasn’t on the schedule. At the time, she had no idea how she was going to get the clothes, bedding, and other items new babies need.

Operation Shower

Amy Belle Isle (right), chief event planner for Operation Shower, and volunteer Tanya Martinez at Operation Shower’s Farmingdale baby shower in August. Courtesy Operation Shower

“When you’re in the military, you know how much the other members make based on their rank. None of us makes much, so we all try to help each other out,” says Sgt. Anaya, who also has 2-year-old Landon. “After I had my oldest son and he grew out of things, I gave most of his items to lower-ranking Marines who were expecting kids. It’s something we all do. So when I found out that I was pregnant and moving to New York on military orders, I was nervous. New York is very expensive and we are barely getting used to life here. We just got here in June.”

Operation Shower Saves the Day

So she applied to Operation Shower, a nonprofit organization with a mission to provide baby showers for military families to ease the burden of deployment. According to Amy Belle Isle, the chief event planner, the organization was founded in 2007 by LeAnn Morrissey.

“She got the idea from her uncle who was deployed when her aunt was pregnant. He told her that the soldiers were well taken care of with care packages from home, but that no one thinks about their families back home,” says Belle Isle, who lives in Franklin, MA. “He had four men in his unit who had pregnant partners. So LeAnn sent them care packages.”

Thus, the idea for Operation Shower was born. Since then, the organization has been responsible for 27 baby showers nationwide and helped its 1,000th mother in December 2012. It has a waiting list of other expectant moms who would like to participate.

Belle Isle says that in addition to a party, women receive a mover’s-sized box filled with bed, bath, and playtime items, a diaper bag, and clothes, all totaling about $500. Large items such as cribs, car seats, and strollers are raffled off.

“By the time moms-to-be leave the shower, they all have about $1,000 worth of needed baby products,” Belle Isle says. 

One Big Baby Shower

On Aug. 22, 2012, Operation Shower held a party for 40 New York military families at The Barclays at Bethpage State Park in Farmingdale, NY. The event was part of the PGA Tour’s Birdies for the Brave military outreach initiative. Actress and former Sayville resident Melissa Joan Hart, who was also expecting, hosted the shower.

Operation Shower at The Barclays

Operation Shower hosted a baby shower for 40 New York military families at The Barclays at Bethpage State Park in August. Courtesy Operation Shower

On the guest list were Sgt. Anaya and her husband Sonny, who is also in the Marine Corp. Sgt. Anaya says she was thrilled with the Petunia diaper bag and the Carousel Designs brand linens they received, and Sonny was happy about the Britax car seat and the Maclaren stroller. But more important was the support they both felt.

“[These showers] give military families a sort of ‘normal’ in a lifestyle that is far from normal.”

“As a military family, we move every three years and are rarely stationed near any family. We cannot have a baby shower like the average couple,” Sgt. Anaya says. “This organization not only helps the military family by providing items for the baby, it also allows the family to have a shower in a fun atmosphere. This gives military families a sort of ‘normal’ in a lifestyle that is far from normal.”

Volunteers Make a World of Difference

One of the people who helped make the day happen for Sgt. Anaya was Tanya Martinez, a mother of five in Port Jefferson, NY, who also has military ties. Her husband is a Navy veteran from the first Iraq war, and her father is a retired Army sergeant major.

How to Participate in
Operation Shower

To become a part of Operation Shower, either as a guest or volunteer, visit operationshower.org.

To be a shower recipient, visit the site’s contact page. You must be in the military or have a significant other who is deployed to qualify.

To donate items, email leann@operationshower.org for ideas on what is needed, or visit babiesrus.com and link to the Operation Shower registry.

*It’s particularly helpful when groups get together to donate 40 of one item. If you do, please contact us at lburby@davlermedia.com so we can highlight your donation in an issue of Long Island Parent.

“Because I have a military background, I know how hard it is for military families,” says Martinez, 39, who has been volunteering with Operation Shower since 2010. “When I was growing up we traveled all over, and I know it was hard on my mom. Any support women get from the outside is welcome.”

Martinez says after she won "Long Island Parent" magazine’s “Readers’ Best Kids’ Party” contest in 2009 she was inspired to start her own blog, Save the Date for Cupcakes. Since then, she has been working as a party planner/event stylist and has been featured on sites like People.com and MarthaStewart.com. She and Belle Isle are long-time blogging friends, so when Martinez found out that Operation Shower was coming to Farmingdale, NY, she volunteered her services.

For the Farmingdale baby shower, Martinez was in charge of the dessert table. She pulled together 12 vendors from Manhattan and created a Once Upon a Shower theme with desserts representing various storybook characters, like Curious George, the Lorax, and the cow that jumped over the moon.

Martinez will be in Hawaii on Jan. 8 to help host another Operation Shower where her dessert theme will be You Are My Sunshine. There, her mother and military father will be helping her, as well as her 17- and 19-year-old sons.

“My father is looking forward to helping out,” says Martinez, whose husband volunteered at the Farmingdale event. “It’s important to all of us to give back. Being a part of these events is rewarding, as the women are genuinely surprised. It’s great to see how affected they are to learn how much people care about them. It brought me to tears. It makes me think of my mom and all the other women who spend their pregnancies with someone in their lives deployed.”