Giving Back to Our Heroes
Helping military families and vets this season and all year long
Do you ever wish Christmas lasted all year? Soldiers’ Angels, a nonprofit group that provides aid to the men and women of the United States armed services and their families, starts the holidays early. In August, the group began planning and collecting gifts for soldiers and other personnel in military service. Later in the year, the organization started sending the donated goods to troops who are fighting in places such as Afghanistan, making sure American servicemen and women get a little comfort from home during the holidays, which are a tough time to be away from loved ones in a strange and hostile land.
Some corporations get involved, too, like Sempra Energy, which for the past four years has organized donation drives for goods to go in holiday care packages. You can organize a similar drive where you work or you can volunteer as an individual to help collect donations.
The “Six Months of Christmas” project is only one way Soldiers’ Angels tries to help and honor our military personnel. There are also 20 other programs, many of them running year-round.
For longer-term involvement, you can “adopt” a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine by committing to send cards, letters or care packages at least once a month for six months or one year. As of November 15, the Soldiers’ Angels website reports 80 servicemen and women awaiting “adoption,” although the number fluctuates weekly. Cristina Harman, corporate administrator at Soldiers’ Angels, says the items most requested are nonperishable snacks and personal hygiene articles such as shampoo, razors and deodorant. This deeper level of commitment requires the organization to verify your identification; they ask for a donation of $1 to cover that process.
The group also provides support to the families of troops stationed overseas, such as baby showers for military wives who are expecting. Cash donations can be earmarked for specific purposes, such as buying gas cards to ensure that injured vets can get to necessary medical appointments or paying the salaries of the vets who have packing and shipping jobs in the Soldier’s Angel warehouse.
Want to adopt a military family for Christmas? Sign up to be an “angel” by providing gifts, grocery cards and other holiday cheer to the families of enlisted servicemembers. Maybe this is something your department or company could do. Hurry — the deadline for Christmas adoptions is December 15th.
For more information, see www.SoldiersAngels.org.
books for soldiers
Books and other gifts may be sent through North Carolina-based Books for Soldiers, which serves as an information portal to connect donations with soldiers on active duty. The Books for Soldiers website posts a constantly refreshed list of requests from soldiers overseas for books, entertainment and personal care items. You need to set up an account for access to the requests; you can then review requests online and choose a soldier to whom to send your items directly.
This is a year-round program, but the holidays are an especially nice time to forward your gently used paperback books, DVDs or CDs or new small sports equipment (baseballs, baseball gloves, footballs, Frisbees and the like). Some types of packaged food items are also welcome, particularly things the soldiers might not be able to get where they are stationed, such as beef jerky, granola bars, canned nuts or single-serving packets of coffee.
See www.booksforsoldiers.com for more.
When troops come home, that is not always the end of the battle. There are also organizations that offer opportunities for you to help vets recently returned from active duty, some of whom are experiencing very tough times. According to New Directions, a West Los Angeles nonprofit that assists disabled and homeless veterans, our city has the largest population of homeless military veterans in the nation; some estimates are as high as 8,000.
In the war zones from which vets are returning (Iraq and Afghanistan), levels of stress and combat fatigue are high, causing mental and physical health problems that follow the vets home. Many of the homeless veterans of both genders living on our streets are suffering from substance abuse, mental illness and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as other chronic medical problems. These various and co-occurring conditions can severely hamper vets’ efforts to secure employment and reintegrate into the civilian world.
New Directions’ array of services is designed to help vets get back on their feet, including transitional housing, counseling, job training and mentor and peer support. There are many opportunities to help New Directions in its mission to assist these men and women who have served their country and now need someone to help them get back to their lives.
In addition to cash or in-kind donations of goods or services (a list of current needs is posted on the “Get Involved Now” section of the organization’s website), you can volunteer your time. You can teach resume writing or yoga, help maintain the facilities with painting or repairs or contribute other needed services. If you would like to offer your skills on a regular basis, there is an application form online in the “How You Can Help” section of the New Directions website.
You can also put together “Welcome Home” baskets containing kitchen staples and basic household items for returning vets or plan a holiday gift drive at your office to benefit the vets.
See www.newdirectionsinc.org for more information.
U.S. Vets is a nationwide organization with sites in Long Beach and Inglewood that helps veterans transition to civilian life by providing housing, counseling, employment assistance and comprehensive support. The Inglewood facility provides holiday meals on Veterans’ Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas and needs volunteers to help plan, prepare and serve those meals. To offer your services, use the contact form on the “About Us” section of their website.
Offering a veteran a job is probably the most helpful thing one can do. If you are in the human resources department of a local business or have some influence over hiring at your company, U.S. Vets can supply a pool of qualified applicants. U.S. Vets provides employment assistance in the form of career counseling, resume and interview preparation and skills training, as well as connecting veterans with local employers. Bridgette Leibert of the organization’s Workforce Development Center works with local companies wishing to consider military vets for job openings. The Center will arrange for pre-screened candidates to interview either at the U.S. Vets facilities in Long Beach or Inglewood or at the business’s own site.
If needed, U.S. Vets will also help job candidates obtain special equipment such as work boots or provide bus tokens or gas cards to help the candidates get to interviews. Bridgette says that in the last year, U.S. Vets has helped 300 vets get jobs through the two L.A.-based sites. If your company has a position to fill, contact her at (424) 227-0875 to arrange interviews with pre-screened and motivated candidates who have served their country and now need a job.
Twice a year U.S. Vets holds volunteer-driven events called “Stand Downs” that provide many important services to homeless vets. Stand Downs provide employment assistance and workshops, clothing, vision screening, dental care, counseling, showers, haircuts, hygiene supplies, legal assistance and other help. Stand Down events are held in Compton each September, while a smaller, women-only Stand Down is held each July. If you have special talents or skills or just want to help at either of these events next year, contact StandDownHelp@gmail.com.
For more information, visit www.usvetsinc.org.
an angel lands in afghanistan
Last spring, Beth Schietzelt, volunteer coordinator at Soldiers’ Angels, received this email:
I am requesting support for my Company which is currently deployed in Afghanistan. We live in a Combat Outpost high in the mountains in Paktika Province. We do not have a PX, so everything we receive is through mail order. Items such as snacks, hygiene products, laundry soap, sheets, blankets would be greatly treasured. We have about 180 male soldiers, we live in bunkers and my soldiers spend most of their days patrolling the mountains or pulling guard duty. Your support will be greatly appreciated.
After a shipment of packages was sent, the servicemembers replied with this photo (below) and note:
This is the first time I have ever seen this much support given to us. Every time the mail comes in there are boxes from Soldiers' Angels. Knowing of individuals outside of our friends and family that take the time and effort to send a package shows us just how much support and respect our nation still has for our military.
— 1SG Paul R. in Afghanistan, June 2012