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Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

While the holidays can be filled with joy, friendship and family, they can also be a stressful time for military families who are on a tight budget or are separated from their loved ones.

Thanks to our generous donors, Operation Homefront’s Holiday Meals for Military program helps fill some of those gaps by providing military and veteran families with a dinner complete with all the fixings. Throughout the holiday season, Operation Homefront and their partners will have hosted nearly 60 events nationwide, serving more than 10,400 families.

Some of the events also include toy giveaways and visits from Santa.

At a recent Thanksgiving event in San Antonio, Texas, hosted by San Antonio Shoemakers, more than 400 families picked up meal kits and their turkey. Now in its fifth year, the shoe company’s HMFM event has distributed 9,500 meals across Texas since the partnership began, and this year they packed 1,600.

The Cino triplets and friend had a blast at HMFM 2019!

Military spouse Jackie Cino brought her triplets and made sure to tell her friend Stephanie Robirds, another military spouse, so she too could come along to pick up a meal. This was the third year in a row for Jackie whose husband Miles is a staff sergeant in the Army. He’s served for 11 years and is now stationed at Fort Sam Houston where he and Stephanie’s husband, Chris, a staff sergeant with seven years of service, work as instructors.

“This year we’re doing dinner for guys that don’t have their family here that will be coming to eat with us,” Jackie said.

Stephanie and Jackie thanked donors who help out, “especially this time of year,” Stephanie said, “because money is always tight.”

“This year we’re doing dinner for guys that don’t have their family here that will be coming to eat with us.”

With more than 100 volunteers from SAS Shoes who either packed up the dinner kits during the week or helped with distribution on the weekend, SAS CEO Nancy Richardson said the company’s employees want to help make a difference. San Antonio is known as “military city” and many of the employees have either served themselves or have family members who are veterans or active duty.

“To actually do something that feels meaningful to them in a positive way so that (our military) truly do feel appreciated.”

“Part of what we are trying to do here is not to make it seem like a platitude,” she said. “But, to actually do something that feels meaningful to them in a positive way so that they truly do feel appreciated.”

At the weekend distribution, three active duty airmen helped carry frozen turkeys. Air Force Staff Sgt. Ashley Warden is in the volunteer reserves for Operation Homefront and this year brought along Air Force Master Sgt. William Laflair and Master Sgt. Nancy Horsey.

Nancy said she would like the donors to know that “a lot of military members would have a hard time at the holidays and this really makes it easier for them.”

Ashley sees volunteering for OH as a time to pay it forward from when she would get assistance.

“Especially this time of the year, there’s no better time to give back and be thankful for what we have and what we have benefited from in the past and help others who might be struggling or might experiencing a rough patch,” she said.

The San Antonio event gave Operation Homefront staff and volunteers the opportunity to meet some new people as well as catch up with some longtime friends.

Operation Homefront events often feel like reunions for our volunteers and families.

Veteran Army Spc. Charles Henry was one of those familiar faces. In 2012, Charles received a home through Operation Homefront’s Homes on the Homefront program.

“During Thanksgiving time, it’s always something we don’t have to think about because Operation Homefront is there for us,” he said.

He often tells people about Operation Homefront’s programs and the great support his family has received. He hopes donors and volunteers, like those at San Antonio Shoes who hosted the HMFM event, plus OH staff and volunteers know they are making a difference.

“My family thanks you,” Charles said. “We are very appreciative of the work they’ve done in San Antonio and throughout the United States. (Operation Homefront) is a great organization that changes veterans’ lives, as they did mine.”

For more information on Operation Homefront’s programs, including Holiday Meals for Military, visit operationhomefront.org.

See pictures from many of our Holiday Meals for Military events on our Flickr page.

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Happy Holidays!

The holiday season can be overwhelming with the many events, parties, shopping and gifts that seem to take away from its true meaning of giving. Now that I have kids, it’s important to me and my husband that we start to teach them early what it means to give back, especially when it comes to our military community.

Below, you’ll see several ideas to help you get involved this holiday season but anything that helps is a worthy idea in my opinion. Happy giving!

Holiday Meals for Military 

This yearly program from Operation Homefront distributes ready-to-go holiday meal kits to military families and includes everything needed for a traditional holiday meal. Since 2009, the program has fed more than 90,000 military families and continues to grow each year. Get inspired with photos from past events and help by making a small donation at the Operation Homefront donation page.

Holiday Toy Drive 

I’m sure some of us feel that we can all do with less toys in our lives but for those families who struggle with the expectations of gifts during the holidays, toy drives are the perfect way to pass along the spirit. Operation Homefront’s Holiday Toy Drive is an easy way to do a little good for the next kid. The program collects toys and distributes them at a participating event on base. Learn about how you can get involved at: https://www.operationhomefront.org/holidaytoys.

Consider a Monetary Donation 

We all lead hectic lives, so sometimes it’s just easier to contribute monetarily. Operation Homefront makes it super easy with their Current Needs list, a running list of critical requests for help made by military families across the country. Your donation can help a family pay utility bills, support medical expenses or even pay rent. I love the transparency and that I can see where donations are going. Check the Current Needs page for more information.

Organize a Bake Sale 

Something about the holidays gets me in the baking mood! Instead of doing it alone, think about organizing a bake sale on your base instead. It’s a fun way to connect with other parents in your community, get the kids involved, try different recipes and enjoy delicious treats at the end! A total win-win. You may even want to check in with your local commissary to see how they can help with the cost of ingredients and supplies.

Operation Homefront and Procter and Gamble are proud to partner together to serve America’s Military families.

About Start Strong, Stay Strong: Start Strong, Stay Strong enables military families like yours to connect with your best allies—each other. We’ll help you create the stability, connections and comfort in your military community that you and your family deserve.

About Melissa Stockwell: Nothing is harder and more rewarding than being a military mom. This is something American war veteran and Paralympian Melissa Stockwell knows well. After losing her left leg in combat in 2004 as a 24-year-old first lieutenant, the lifelong athlete and patriot knew should couldn’t stop there. She turned her years of hard training and dedication to para-athletics, and in 2008 earned a spot on the U.S. Paralympic Swim team. She competed for the first time as a Paralympian in Beijing, China. This commitment and new path started a journey that eventually led her to become a three-time world champion Para-triathlete, earning the Paralympic Bronze Medal in 2016. She then went on to co-found Dare2Tri, a nonprofit organization that introduces people with disabilities to the sport of triathlon. However, has been nothing compared to the joy and reward of Melissa’s biggest accomplishment—becoming a mom. Her two kids Dallas and Millie motivate her to continue to dream big and inspire her to serve as a role model so that one day they too will learn to discover their own dreams.

Whatever type of mom you are, Melissa helps us see that all moms are on a mission, together. Visit Melissa’s Corner and join today!

Inspire!

Melissa has inspired military spouses across the country at Operation Homefront events like Homefront Celebration and Star-Spangled Babies showers

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vickie at baghdad sign

Operation Homefront Communications Manager Vickie Starr

With 84 percent of our staff either veterans or coming from a military family, the 100th anniversary of Veterans Day resonates at Operation Homefront. 

From our top executives, to our staff working throughout the nation, and from our board members to our volunteer brigade (more than 4,500 strong with 56 percent being service members or military spouses), Operation Homefront understands the sacrifices made by our country’s military families.

We asked one of our own to tell us, in her own words, about serving our country.

Operation Homefront Communications Manager Vickie Starr, veteran, US Air Force November 1978 – August 1987; US Army May 1990 – 1993 

I have several immediate thoughts when I think of Veterans Day. The first is the overwhelming support that the American people showed to military troops during the Gulf War in 1990-1991. As part of the 786th Transportation Company, an Army National Guard unit in Lucedale, Mississippi, we were activated in November 1990. As we made the drive from Lucedale to Fort Stewart, Georgia, we encountered many people waving miniature flags as we passed by. Whenever the convoy stopped, people voiced their support of us, America, and the U.S. military.

When we returned from our deployment to Saudi Arabia in May 1991, I was once again overwhelmed by the support—this time from Vietnam veterans and the local Bangor, Maine community.  We were, by far, not the first troops to return from Desert Storm—the first in country were the first out. Yet, when our plan landed in Bangor for refueling, at 3:00 a.m. (as in early, early pre morning), this Mississippi Army National Guard unit was met by a group of local Vietnam veterans. These Vietnam veterans wanted to make sure that all military troops were welcomed back to the United States. They had also convinced members of the local community that getting up at 2:00 a.m. to welcome soldiers back to the United States at 3:00 a.m. was a great idea. At that point, I really knew that being a member of the military was being a part of brotherhood, and I would always have a connection to this select group of individuals.

A few years after Desert Storm, I got together with a fellow soldier and attended the Laser show at Stone Mountain, Georgia. As the night fell, the show began which was military themed. Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American” played across the loudspeaker as the American flag wavered against Stone Mountain. Each branch of the military was recognized, and the veterans in the audience were asked to stand. I had never considered myself to be more patriotic than anyone else, but in that moment I had an overwhelming sense of patriotism, an overwhelming sense of pride, and a few tears. When Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Some Gave All” played a few minutes later, the tears did not stop. The cost of freedom is never free, and we must always remember those who walked before us, and that “All Gave Some and Some Gave All.”

That same support from the American people, that I witnessed firsthand in 1990, is what allows Operation Homefront to accomplish all of the many things we do for today’s veteran and military families. Our supporters give of their money, time, and goods, which we must always be thankful for – they are our cheerleaders. The other driving force is the “brotherhood of the military” (please note that as a female the brotherhood is meant to be inclusive of all). People associated with the military want to help each other as witnessed by my encounter with the Vietnam veterans in Maine. Operation Homefront helps veteran and military families because many of us have a tie to the military, and we want to give back to our brothers and sisters, who will in turn pay it forward and give back to others. And the pride and patriotism keeps all of us going when the days are long and things seem to go wrong. Patriotism reminds us that some of our veterans, our military, and their families made the ultimate sacrifice, while others are living with their sacrifice daily.

Join Operation Homefront in recognizing the 100th celebration of Veterans Day through our Raise Your Hand campaign. Click here to learn more.

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by Robert D. Thomas, Chief Operations Officer, Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.), Operation Homefront

Today, we remember and honor our service members.

On Memorial Day, our nation remembers and reflects upon the loss of the service members who have had a profound impact on preserving the freedoms we enjoy daily. By honoring the memory of their service, we sustain the spirit of these fallen heroes. And, we also remember their families, who sustained their service.

When I think about the heroes we have lost, I also think of the time lost with their families. I think of the incalculable value of eating an ordinary family dinner together, watching your son or daughter play soccer, or taking a child fishing. For those deployed, and those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, that time is lost forever; they will never get those moments back and neither will their families.

Reflecting on my 31-year Air Force career, and the friends I have lost in the service, brings Memorial Day into sharp focus for me. My military specialty was air mobility, and when I was not flying transport/tanker aircraft, I was the officer on staff responsible for the air mobility mission.

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During multiple deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries, among other duties, I would many times find myself part of the team responsible for transporting our fallen heroes back home one last time. The units would honor their lost comrade in a solemn ceremony, almost always at night to avoid the rocket or mortar fire large groups of soldiers attract, and end with a member of the unit answering “absent sir” as the fallen warrior’s name was called in a final unit roll call.

Often, and especially on Memorial Day, I think of the families of those heroes and what it would be like to get the devastating news that a mother, father, son, or daughter was gone forever, and how many lives were changed permanently at that moment.

All Americans can take part in honoring those we have lost by joining the national moment of remembrance. You can participate by pausing for a moment of silence at 3 p.m. local time on Monday afternoon.

In memory of those we have lost, and in honor of those who proudly serve, please join me in standing with our nation’s military heroes.

With heartfelt gratitude,

Robert D. Thomas
Operation Homefront Chief Operations Officer
Brig. Gen. (ret.), USAF

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by Cathy McCarthy

All of us here at Operation Homefront hope that you get to enjoy family time together on Thanksgiving this year. But, we also know that many military families will not be with their loved ones. That is just part of military life, and one of the prices paid in service to country.  You are not alone. Many military spouses and families have been there, done that, and can completely understand how you are feeling.

With my husband who was away for long periods of time on a submarine, I celebrated many different kinds of Thanksgivings. You might see yourself in one of these “styles.”

 

  • Style 1: Family Is What You Make It: In all our years as a Navy family, we were never closer than 5 or 6 hour’s drive from family, and most of the time, no closer than 1,000 miles. I have hosted families who could not make it home and gathered spouses and children of my husband’s shipmates when the submarine was deployed. On one occasion, we had 12 people hanging out in a 900 square foot military housing unit (shout out to Jackson Park)!  Never thought I could have so much fun crammed into a tiny kitchen peeling 20 pounds of potatoes. I was blessed to spend time with so many amazing military families from all over the country, each with unique stories but united in our support for each other (despite their unfortunate choices in NFL teams – Go G-men!).

That’s two units on the second floor there, folks.

 

  • Style 2: Hit The Road Solo: I decided one year when my husband was deployed on Thanksgiving to take to the air and go see extended family. My parents and brothers were literally on another continent at the time, so I went to see my grandma, cousins, aunts, uncles and in-laws. A three-day whirlwind tour, pregnant, with toddler in tow.  Many military families are familiar with the “short time, long list of places to be” tour. In hindsight, I might have scaled it back a bit. It was great to see family, but a bit exhausting by the end. That is how I found myself at SFO crying to “I’ll be home for Christmas” at 10PM at night. But I also met a young soldier on a layover who was flying home to see his little girl, having been deployed to Korea for the previous six months.  I still have the coin he gave my 2-year-old daughter in my jewelry box.

Actual coin given to my then 2-year-old daughter by a soldier on his way home to see his daughter. I’ve kept this coin for 20 years.

 

  • Style 3: Dinner at the Command Because You or Your Spouse Has Duty: Not many can say they have had Thanksgiving on a submarine (the boat, not the ship…don’t ever call it a ship). Hubby had duty and we were invited to come have dinner with him. After all these years, I have never stopped marveling at how the guys (gals, too, now) could handle life undersea for so long in those tiny spaces. I’ve had walk-in closets bigger than the mess deck on one of those things. I have also had Thanksgiving at the dining hall when I wore the uniform. And while it may not be Momma’s cooking, our shipmates do a pretty darn good job.

 

  • Style 4: Eat Somewhere That Is Open on Thanksgiving: Because they’re in 12-hour shift work and you have a whopping 10 hours to do anything, including sleep.

 

  • Style 5: Pick Your Own Day to Celebrate: I once had homecoming shortly AFTER Thanksgiving, so many of the division families got together and had Thanksgiving in early December, potluck style. Thanksgivings can be the day before, day after, or week later. I bet someone has had it in October…any day but actual Thanksgiving.

We are very sorry but we are unable to accommodate your Thanksgiving plans this year. Can we touch base in April?

 

Which is why that year on actual Thanksgiving Day I resorted to …

 

  • Style 6: I’m Over It: Turkey sandwich. Early bedtime. Enough said. But seriously, sometimes, it is okay to just give yourself an out and take a pass on festivities.  Quiet and rest is often vastly underestimated.

TOTALLY NOT an accurate representation of the sandwich I actually had. Think less lettuce, tomato, cheese and more tears.

 

And finally, last but not least…

  • Style 7: Overcompensating: And, when my husband was FINALLY home for the holidays, I busted out the Bon Appetit, Southern Cooking, Food and Wine and found the most complicated cookie, cakes and side dish recipes, created an over-the-top centerpiece, and decorated like our home was getting photographed for Town and Country. For me, him and two toddlers. Because we had not had a Thanksgiving together in a long time and I was going to knock it out of the park and create the best memories ever! I recovered in enough time for Christmas, which believe me, was much more low-key.

Did I bake enough desserts for 4 people? I don’t know…better make three more pies!

 

But in all seriousness, as tough as it can be for families, in our hearts, we know it is so much tougher for our service member.

The challenges we can face as military families at the holidays is one reason why I love Operation Homefront’s annual Holiday Meals for Military program so much.  It is such a nice way to meet the military families in our communities and let them know we appreciate all they go through and that we are thinking of them. Most of the time, I bring my kids along to volunteer, and we always have an amazing time. We’ll be distributing over 7,000 meals in November and December this year in cities across the USA. That’s a lot of holiday cheer, and this year, we will be serving a holiday meal to our 400,000th family member since the program was born from a chance encounter between a Beam Suntory executive (one of our sponsors) and a young military family in a supermarket in Utica, New York, near Fort Drum.

If you would like to provide some holiday cheer for a military family this year, please consider donating to our Current Need fund for holiday meals.  You can also join us in our Raise Your Hand or Giving Strength campaigns or volunteer at one of our upcoming Holiday Meals for Military events.

For military families interested in receiving a holiday meal, you can find our list of events and links to register here.

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Operation Homefront!

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To honor our Nation’s veterans, Operation Homefront would like to share the stories of the veterans who have touched our lives through our programs.  Please join us every day as we feature a new veteran in our #11Days11Stories series leading up to Veterans Day 2019.

Arlacee and Thien Luu are a power couple, though they might laugh at the description.  But anyone reading their story can see the power of their courage to never give up and have faith.

Arlacee, now an Army reservist, originally enlisted in the Army – and proudly served – to earn the education benefits and for the challenge. “A lot of people … did not think I could accomplish basic training, much less complete my contract,” Arlacee said. “I chose the Army because I wanted to accomplish my dream of joining the military and to prove that I am capable of anything.” In the Army, Arlacee, an E-4 specialist, was a surveyor and a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear specialist. Her platoon worked on nuclear, biological and chemical reconnaissance vehicles.

Thien, her husband, served in the Army from 2007-11, including a 2009 Iraq deployment. He was medically retired after sustaining a traumatic brain injury from an IED blast.

Even these challenges did not shake them.  Then came their transition from service.

Arlacee and Thein had no idea how to afford a place of their own and they ended up staying with family when they first left military service. This allowed them to save a little and prioritize their spending to care for their baby’s special needs.

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Arlacee’s and Thien Luu’s 1-year-old son, Derek, was born without ears, and with a heart condition that required surgery to correct. He can hear with hearing aids, but because of his hearing impairment, Arlacee would like to enroll him in a school for the deaf. She acknowledges that caring for Derek, who is “beating the odds,” has been a lot of work for them, not only going to doctors’ appointments but also accepting his limitations.

On top of the childcare needs, they felt financially stymied trying to address their career goals, which required them to further their education. Arlacee’s wants to go to graduate school, and possibly work part time as an intern with the university’s geology department. She received a bachelor’s degree in biology in 2012 from New Mexico State University and will attend University of New Mexico in Albuquerque to pursue advanced degrees in geoscience, using her post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits. She would like to become a geoscientist, perhaps supporting the military or working for the U.S. Geological Survey.

Luckily, Arlacee remembered Operation Homefront’s Homes on the Homefront program. While they were stationed in Hawaii, an Operation Homefront (OH) employee described how JPMorgan Chase and other partners donated mortgage-free homes across the country to award to eligible military families.  Once families are accepted into Homes on the Homefront (HOTH), they receive financial counseling to assist with saving, paying down debt and improving credit. Homes are deeded to those who successfully complete the program in two to three years.

A home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, caught her eye. Arlacee grew up on and near the Navajo reservation. She and her parents, who still live in New Mexico, are part of the Navajo Nation, and Arlacee missed the “remarkable” desert and mountainous landscapes, colorful scenery and clean air. Though she feared HOTH was too good to be true, she applied and was accepted for an Albuquerque home.

“We never, in a million years, thought we would be matched with a home,” Arlacee said. Using the Navajo word for thank you, she added, “Ahéhee’ for your generous donations.”

“We are extremely grateful, you have made a huge impact on our lives. This house is a true blessing, allowing Thien and I the opportunity to provide for our son and to continue our education. We are determined to make an impact and share our generosity with others, as you have done for us.” Arlacee said she also looks forward to the financial counseling that comes with HOTH because it will reinforce budgeting and the importance of saving, and hold them accountable. “It’s a push in the right direction,” she said.

Living in the HOTH home without the pressure of a mortgage is “such a relief,” Arlacee said. “It’s … a heavy burden off our shoulders …(and) we can focus on our child.”“Veterans go through different trials and different situations” such as injuries that sometimes require them to take things slower, Arlacee continued. “It makes life a little bit harder in different scenarios, compared to my coworkers … we face different challenges. [Operation Homefront] is a good organization to help alleviate some of these issues that we face.”

“I’m so grateful that … it’s not a too-good-to-be-true situation. We’re grateful to the donors.”

There are many families who still need our help. Check out our Current Needs page and you can help us serve America’s military families today.

Operation Homefront is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose mission is to build strong, stable, and secure military

Just as these veterans raised their hand to swear an oath to serve their country, you, too, can join in committing to support them through Operation Homefront’s #RaiseYourHand campaign. Learn more at operationhomefront.org/RaiseYourHand

families so they can thrive — not simply struggle to get by — in the communities they have worked so hard to protect. For over fifteen years, we have provided programs that offer: RELIEF (through Critical Financial Assistance and transitional housing programs), RESILIENCY (through permanent housing and caregiver support services) and RECURRING FAMILY SUPPORT programs and services throughout the year that help military families overcome the short-term bumps in the road so they don’t become long-term chronic problems. Please visit us at www.operationhomefront.org to learn more or support our mission.

 

 

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To honor our Nation’s veterans, Operation Homefront would like to share the stories of the veterans who have touched our lives through our programs. Please join us every day as we feature a new veteran in our #11Days11Stories series leading up to Veterans Day 2019.

An oath for life, and to give your life, is one of the most solemn gifts one can offer to their country and to another. Medically retired Army Sergeant Jennifer Gonzalez and her husband have offered theirs, and it has not come without a high cost.

Jennifer was only 17 when she joined the Army. A recruiter contacted her, and Jennifer became interested in the medical field. Although Jennifer knew of her family’s history of military service, she would be the first and only female from her family to serve. “I thought joining the military sounded cool,” said Jennifer. “And I was spontaneous and liked to take risks.”

During her 11 years with the Army Reserves, Jennifer had one deployment to Iraq that forever changed her. Suffering from post-traumatic stress. Jennifer was medically retired.

Because of her disability, her husband is now also her caregiver, while also dealing with his own transition from military service. When the family moved to a smaller town, Jennifer’s husband found it hard to find a job, especially one that was comparable to his previous job at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Without a second income, Jennifer and her husband soon found themselves in financial stress. When Jennifer received a disconnect notice from the electric company, the couple reached out to Operation Homefront for help with their monthly bills.

Thanks to generous donors, Jennifer and her family will not have their power disconnected. Not only was Operation Homefront able to pay Jennifer’s utility bill, but also paid her auto insurance payment and provided food assistance.
Jennifer is not alone. In 2017, Operation Homefront received 1,900 requests from veterans across the nation that needed help with their utilities. Additionally, over 1,300 veterans needed help providing food for their families, and over 1,300 service members requested help with their auto payment and insurance. With two more months left in 2018, we are on track to see the same, if not more, especially with the recent natural disasters hitting heavily populated military areas, such as the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida.

“I am so appreciative and grateful to Operation Homefront’s donors who help military families without another place to turn to,” said Jennifer. “We had no family to turn to for help. It is very humbling to ask for help, but we are so grateful. Your donors think of others after the fact (completion of service).”

“Operation Homefront is a great organization,” continued Jennifer. “My caseworker Erik was great to work with. There are a lot of emotions a veteran feels when they are transitioning; it can be shameful to ask for help and very hard to do, especially for veterans who are very independent. I never felt like I was treated differently.”

Just as these veterans raised their hand to swear an oath to serve their country, you, too, can join in committing to support them through Operation Homefront’s #RaiseYourHand campaign. Learn more at http://www.operationhomefront.org/RaiseYourHand

There are many families who still need our help. Check out our Current Needs page and you can help us serve America’s military families today.

Operation Homefront is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose mission is to build strong, stable, and secure military families so they can thrive — not simply struggle to get by — in the communities they have worked so hard to protect. For over fifteen years, we have provided programs that offer: RELIEF (through Critical Financial Assistance and transitional housing programs), RESILIENCY (through permanent housing and caregiver support services) and RECURRING FAMILY SUPPORT programs and services throughout the year that help military families overcome the short-term bumps in the road so they don’t become long-term chronic problems. Please visit us at www.operationhomefront.org to learn more or support our mission.

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