Tree a show of yearlong support

As Christmas lights were removed from the tree across from Flagpole Plaza downtown, brightly colored ribbons of support were their replacement.

Operation S.A.M. (Supporting All Military) has been adding these yellow ribbons to Livermore’s landmark tree since April of 2003. They symbolize recognition for all members of the military whether they are on duty, at home or abroad, or are military veterans.

“It’s just such a fantastic symbol of support,” said Kristin Ekvall, co-founder of Operation S.A.M.

The tree holds about 100 ribbons, which are replaced once they start looking tattered. City maintenance staff help with the ribbon placement along with maintaining the pocket park.

Ekvall said she hopes the ribbons are a reminder to people who drive or walk past the tree.

Whether the reminder is to make a donation or just to pause and say a prayer, the military mom said she hopes people take notice.

Residents of all ages seem to be familiar with the downtown symbol, as Ekvall has learned when she talks to schoolchildren about Operation S.A.M.

She asks classes if they’ve seen the “yellow ribbon tree” and “every little kid raises their hand,” Ekvall said.

In addition to the tree’s yellow ribbons, Operation S.A.M. has placed banners around town, each representing a local man or woman serving in the military. The banners bear a name along with the branch of military that person is with.

Ekvall’s son, Marine Sgt. Jason Myers, is serving in Iraq for the third time.

He was in Iraq when the banners originally were hung, and he made the tree his first stop on his way home when he came back.

“You wouldn’t believe how the parents appreciate the banners,” Ekvall said.

For those who would like to contribute to Operation S.A.M.’s efforts, there is always an opportunity.

The organization sends out care packages to troops at least once a month. Most go to Iraq and Afghanistan, but some are sent to other parts of the world. The packages go to all types of military, not just those from the Bay Area.

Monetary donations as well as essentials and extras such as socks, disposable cameras and snacks are always needed. But the most popular item is letters.

“That’s really a big hit with the troops,” Ekvall said. “They are just so overwhelmed that a stranger is thinking of them.”

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