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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, and when the academic year rolls around, there are plenty of expenses incurred with school supplies.

That’s why Operation Homefront steps in with its Back-to-School Brigade initiative. This program provides fully stocked backpacks 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 image 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 that impact service members and their families, as well as veterans. She conducts research and plans and coordinates all development and fundraising to support those programs. 

She also develops and grows community relationships with 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 were able to distribute about 30,000 backpacks filled with donated school supplies at more than 130 different locations in all 50 states,” said Samantha, whose father served in the U.S. Navy and whose 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, 800 at Clarksville Regional Airport in Clarksville, 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 that children and teens from kindergarten through 12th grade will need for their school year.

These items include basic supplies such as pens, pencils, crayons, markers, 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, which makes a monthly financial donation to Operation Homefront, provided 800 of its 72-Hour Survival Food Kits to the recent Back to School Brigade at Fort Bragg.

Serving Those Who’ve Served Us

Operation Homefront is a national 501 (C)(3) nonprofit organization 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.

Since 2002, thanks to the support of corporate and foundation partners, as well as individual donors, Operation Homefront has provided Critical Financial Assistance, transitional and permanent housing, and 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, among other needs to military families through their CFA program.

At its core, Operation Homefront serves America’s military families in their time of need 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 and click on “Ways to Give.” The nonprofit is also active on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn, where you can stay up-to-date on their programs and events.

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