US military families line up for Christmas gifts
It's an unlikely sight at one of the biggest US military bases: young families lining up and waiting patiently outside a warehouse for free gifts to slip under the Christmas tree.
Times are tough as much for military families as for anyone else in America this Christmas, making donated toys for the children -- from teddy bears and Barbies to board games and bicycles -- more welcome than ever.
"Like any other family, it's hard times," said Sergeant Israel Taylor, 32, an Iraq war veteran now assigned to the military honor guard at Arlington national cemetery, and the father of two children, aged eight and two.
"Luckily, being in the military, we have programs like USO that provide stuff like this to help out, so that's always good to have," he said as his daughter Tracie yearned for a Monster High goth fashion doll.
USO, or the United Service Organizations, is a non-profit organization that offers recreational and morale-boosting services to US military personnel worldwide.
Its metropolitan Washington branch is behind Project USO Elf, which has grown fast in response to the recession that hit the United States hard in 2008 and never really left. This year, it's catering to a record 1,600 children.
"The economic downturn hits military families just like it does anybody else," Crystal Benton, a USO spokeswoman, told AFP as families collected bright red bundles of presents from volunteers in Santa hats and green elf costumes.