Joy Richardson and her girl friends had never been to Operation Care Fair before, but they had a hunch they should get to the annual event early.
The JBLM McChord Field Air Force spouse, along with Army wives Amber Lopez and Heather Gilmore, were first in line at 8 a.m. outside the McChord Club and Community Center Saturday. They waited nearly two hours as people gathered behind them in a line that snaked around the building.
The early-morning arrival paid off for the women as they were the first through the doors and the first of 20 people allowed to browse through the shoe rack and 90 free formal dresses.
We wanted a girls day and to get out of the house, Richardson said.
Richardson and her friends each found a gown and stashed it in their vehicle before returning to the building to check out the 60 vendors at the Operation Care Fair event.
The Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation began the event four years ago as a way to offer service members, spouses, retirees and civilians a day to relax, enjoy a day out and learn about health and wellness. The event has gained popularity every year since, Kate Laverents, DFMWR Special Events director said. This years event saw more than 800 people come through the doors.
All the vendors provided samples or services to everyone who stopped at their booths as a way to get the word out about their business, but also as a service to military families. Attendees were given reusable shopping bags upon entry to the free event for all the goodies and swag they received. Off-base vendors offered services like massages, makeup application and food and drink samples. There were hands-on booths where attendees made their own bath salts and posed for photos. The event also included art and pet therapy.
JBLM businesses were also present including the libraries, the Commissary and intramural sports.
You get to see who is in your community, said Elizabeth Thunstedt, Warrior Zone recreation manager. Its a day to have someone take care of you and give back to military families.
A variety of lessons were given on the main stage in the ballroom including art therapy, decorating, eating healthy and Zumba. Harpist and solo guitar performances in the Heritage Room provided a tranquil setting while patrons munched on appetizers and received massages.
Christina Mulliford left her toddler at home with her husband while she enjoyed a day to herself. The Army spouse was pleased the event offered a variety of services, rather than just makeup, she said.
My poor husband had to stay home, Mulliford said. I didnt think there would be anything cool that hed like, but honestly I think there is.
Mulliford referred to the window-tinting business on-site and the energy drink vendor providing free samples. JBLM Outdoor Recreation offered free all-terrain vehicle test rides around the parking lot to individuals 18 years and older.
This years Operation Care Fair included 20 more vendors than last year. The 90 free formal dresses were given away in two hours on a first-come, first-served basis.