By Amy McCray
Military deployment is stressful for all involved and the absence of a parent can be especially difficult for young children. The Flat Daddies and Flat Mommies program helps to alleviate some of that stress by producing life-size, from-the-waste-up photos of parents who are actively serving overseas. These photos help younger children and families cope with the emotional strain of separation.
Sandi Meikel volunteers for the Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) Program at Fairchild Airforce Base outside of Spokane, Washington, and is the lead for creating and distributing the Flat Daddies and Flat Mommies. Every Tuesday she and Agnes McNally create these photos for deploying airmen. A picture of the airman is cropped and sent to a large photo printer which prints a 24 x 36 inch color glossy poster.
Sandi explains, “This is attached to a self-adhesive foam board. The tough part begins when we hand cut around the figure with a box cutter. This process typically takes about a half hour per picture, so the airman can pick their picture up on the same day. Our record output is 22 in one morning!“
Over forty percent of active duty service members have children, and it can be confusing for younger children when one of their parents is away for an extended period. These children can suffer separation anxiety.
The parent who stays behind faces many challenges as well, including increased responsibility, isolation, anxiety about their spouse’s well-being, and feeling overwhelmed. Children can be affected by their parents’ mental state and may be at risk for psychological and behavioral problems.
The Flat Daddies and Flat Mommies program provides a way to reduce this stress.
Sandi has seen this for herself: “The response from families is so positive. One wife said her husband was deployed and her son cried himself to sleep. She got a Flat Daddy so it could be at the foot her son’s bed, so he would feel like dad was there.”
The Flat Daddy or Mommy can also be beneficial for the absent parent to know he or she is still close in their family’s thoughts—and in some cases, along for the ride. Sandi recalls that, “One family took Flat Daddy on their vacation and sent us pictures with him on the beach with the family and standing in front of Disneyland.”
Sandi has volunteered with SAF for three years and her involvement stretches beyond the Flat Daddies and Flat Mommies. She participates in various Red Cross supported activities on base as well and helps out at the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane. Three days a week she and other volunteers visit patients and pass out cookies, puzzle books and other goodies.
Sandi’s husband is a retired military pilot, so she understands the issues these families face. She says, “It is an honor to provide this service for our military families.”
Find opportunities to volunteer with the American Red Cross Service to Armed Forces team at: RedCross.org