Military families cheered courtside Sunday at the women's basketball game against the University of Virginia, in an appreciation program that honored the service of armed forces.

Fans were asked to donate toiletries to the appreciation-day program, which was sponsored by the Hampton Roads-based nonprofit, Operation Home Front. They could drop off items at bins that were placed at each of the entrances of the Robins Center.

At the time, it was not known how many toiletries had been collected.

Samantha Bilney, a redshirt junior and forward on the basketball team, said she thought about the idea to have the appreciation program when she interned this summer at the Hampton Roads branch of Operation Home Front.

"They were looking for ways to expand in the Richmond-Petersburg area," Bilney said. "Being a Richmond student, this was pretty obvious for me. And then being on the basketball team." Richmond eventually lost to Virginia, 69-56.

Operation Home Front is a nationwide nonprofit that provides emergency financial aid and other assistance to help support military families and wounded soldiers. "When service members deploy overseas and come back and they have a financial crisis, they can come to us and get help," said Carol Berg, executive director of the nonprofit's Hampton Roads branch.

Berg has been involved in Operation Home Front for three years. She said she thought the game was a great way to bond with some of the Fort Lee military families, which had been invited to attend the basketball game.

According the nonprofit's website, about 75 percent of active duty, National Guard and veteran service members live at an income level 80 percent below the median income for the communities they live in.

The afternoon game against Virginia was the base year for the program, Bilney said. "Hopefully in years to come the turnout will be better so that we can get more Fort Lee kids involved and do more clinic kind of things afterwards," she said. "It was my first time doing an event or helping with anything like that, so it was a learning experience but I thought it was a success."

Director of sales and marketing, Tiffanie Fykes said: "I definitely want to look into doing this again. We would start very early, possibly getting some of our girls out to Fort Lee in the summertime, hopefully. We could have some of the girls there, to be present and show that we really love what they [the military] do in our service."

Contact staff writer Keon Monroe at keon.monroe@richmond.edu.

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