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When we think about the women and men who serve our country in the Armed Forces, we usually focus on their sacrifice and bravery. And that’s as it should be.

But something we often overlook is the financial struggle many go through. Especially when they are transferred from one base to another. Sometimes this process involves buying and selling homes every year or two. And placing their children in new schools.

Every penny counts. When the academic year rolls around, there are many school supply expenses.

That’s why Operation Homefront steps in with its Back-to-School Brigade initiative. This program provides fully stocked backpacks. They are distributed to tens of thousands of children of our military members each year.

Volunteers Make It Go

Samantha Martin has been an Area Manager for Operation Homefront for the past 2½ years. She covers four states (the Carolinas, Tennessee and Kentucky) for the organization.

“It’s an enormous region, so you can imagine that we rely heavily on our volunteers,” Samantha said. “Volunteers are part of what allows us to use 90 percent of our expenditures on programs for military families. We have an extraordinary reach in our programs. From relief to resiliency to recurring support.”

Among Samantha’s responsibilities are managing and growing nationwide programs. They impact service members and their families. As well as veterans. She also conducts research and plans, and coordinates all development and fundraising.

She also develops and grows community relationships with various groups. Including clients, service providers, volunteers, military organizations or representatives, and corporations and businesses. In addition, she organizes and maintains volunteer programs, assignments, recruitment, training and retention.

450,000 Backpacks Distributed

“Just over the last two months, we distributed about 30,000 backpacks at more than 130 different locations in all 50 states,” said Samantha. Her father served in the U.S. Navy, and her daughter and son-in-law served in the U.S. Air Force.

“As you can imagine, there is lots of planning, execution and volunteer training to do to pull this off each year.”

Since 2008, Operation Homefront has distributed more than 450,000 of these backpacks. Saving families over $50 million.

Included in the recent events were 800 backpacks distributed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Plus 800 at Clarksville Regional Airport in Clarkesville, Tennessee. And 500 at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

“When many of us think of summer, we think of pools, popsicles and picnics,” Samantha said. “For military families, it’s PCS (permanent change of station) season. And getting ready to start their kids in a new school.

“Military families have unique challenges. With the Back-to-School Brigade, we try to ease the financial burden on parents. And give the kids something to smile about. It’s very important to let them all know they have a support system.”

Dollar Tree Stores Step Up

Each backpack is filled with items children and teens from kindergarten through 12th grade need for their school year.

These items include basic supplies. Such as pens, pencils, crayons and markers. As well as notebooks, paper, scissors, glue, binders and composition books.

Since 2008, most of the supplies have been contributed by Dollar Tree customers in stores across the nation.

“We couldn’t do this without them,” Samantha said. “Dollar Tree stores make it possible for their customers to contribute supplies to the backpacks.”

Driving Through the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the way donations are distributed by Operation Homefront.

“We’ve changed our formatting,” Samantha said. “It used to be an expo-style event. It was very festive. We’d have tables of resources for military providers. And a one-stop shop for school supplies and education needs.

“With COVID, we eliminated the indoor event and made it a drive-through. We also hand out flyers for our services. And partner with other organizations who align with our mission and support America’s military families.”

4Patriots makes a monthly financial donation to Operation Homefront. We provided 800 of our 72-hour Survival Food Kits to the Back to School Brigade at Fort Bragg.

Serving Those Who’ve Served Us

Operation Homefront is a national 501 (C)(3) nonprofit organization. Their mission is to build strong, stable and secure military families. So that they can thrive – not simply struggle to get by – in communities they’ve worked to protect.

Since 2002, Operation Homefront has provided so much. Thanks to the support of corporate and foundation partners, as well as individual donors. Including Critical Financial Assistance (CFA) and transitional and permanent housing. Plus recurring family support programs. And services to hundreds of thousands of military families each year.

That way, those families’ short-term financial challenges do not become long-term, debilitating issues. Operation Homefront provides financial relief pertaining to food, auto and home repair. As well as rent, mortgage, and utilities. Plus other needs to military families through their CFA program.

At its core, Operation Homefront serves America’s military families in their time of need. Why? Because they have served all of us in our nation’s time of need.

Anyone wishing to contribute to Operation Homefront should visit OperationHomefront.org. Then click on “Ways to Give.” The nonprofit is also active on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. That’s where you can stay up-to-date on their programs and events.

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