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Many San Diego military families need assistance this holiday season. The head of Operation Homefront of Southern California explains how you can help!
November 25, 2011 1:30 p.m.
Jay Anderson, retired colonel, president, Operation Homefront, Southern California
Related Story: Helping San Diego Military Families In Need
CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. It's become standard when you meet a marine or other military member to say thank you for your service. During the holidays, there's another way to say thank you for military personnel. And that's to make sure military families have what they need to make ends meet. Operation home front is offering a number of ways for San Diegans to help, including a program to adopt a military family marine the holidays. I'd like to introduce my guest, Colonel Jay Anderson of Operation Homefonrt. And thank you for joining us.
ANDERSON: Thank you for having us, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: Now, we invite our listeners to join the conversation. If you have a question on how to help a military family in San Diego, you can give us a call at 1-888-895-5727. If you would, colonel, remind our listeners what Operation Homefront is and what it does for military families.
ANDERSON: Operation Home front started here in Southern California about ten years ago as we made the first push into Afghanistan. Our mission today is to provide emergency financial and other assistance to the families of our service members and wounded warriors. What that means in practical terms is that we do two things. We have morale events where we go out to help put smiles on the faces of our military families and service members, and then our emergency financial assistance program where we'll step up and through grants will take care of those financial emergencies that arise.
CAVANAUGH: Doesn't the military itself have outreach programs to make sure that military families are okay?
ANDERSON: In fact, we work with a lot of those. Fleet and family services, family readiness officers. But sometimes it comes down to a point of the individual family's finances, and that's when they'll need to reach outside of the military to organizations like ours.
CAVANAUGH: Now, we know that a lot of people are struggling with finances, and have been for a couple of years now. Do you find that more peoples are reaching out for your help at this time?
ANDERSON: Yes. And comparing 2009 to 2010, the number -- we call them needs, that we've met rose about 30% to over 13,200.
CAVANAUGH: Tell us about what the needs are of San Diego military families. Could you tell us about when Operation Homefront might have stepped in and lent assistance that people couldn't find anywhere else?
ANDERSON: Definitely. We have an online application system. And here's a family that we're working to help right now. And I'm going to just read the service member's wife's application. "I don't working and I'm pregnant, and it's very scary not having a car, especially with my husband done gone. My family is also about 2,000 miles away, so they can't help me. My friend is get meeting to the grocery store so I have food. But I can't always rely on friends. I need my own transportation. I can't really talk to my husband about it either because I don't want to stress him out. He needs a clear head over there, and doesn't need to worry about his wife. It is our only car, and any help in getting it running again would be greatly appreciated." This is a marine's wife, coincidentally, and her car needs repair. So we're going to step up and help fix it. Some other things we've done recently is we assisted the family of a marine wounded warrior. Both his wife and daughter had to have surgery unexpectedly and required that his wife stop work, so they had a rather dramatic reduction in take-home pays you can imagine. So we stepped up and we repaired the car, we paid auto insurance and utilities for the home. We're also helping the pregnant wife out at 29 palms. I know that's not San Diego but it's part of my marine community.
CAVANAUGH: Sure, uh-huh.
ANDERSON: And she's pregnant with her third. She's the wife of a Lance corporal, which is the third junior rank in the military. She's got to have a C section. She knows what date it is, but her family is way out back oast. So we're going to fly a family member out to help her not only just pry to the surgery but after she brings that third baby home to be there to help her, and to help with the other two kids. Then we helped a deployed coast guardsman from here in San Diego by paying for car repair. We do all these things, and it can be rent, mortgage, utilities, car repair. Any number of things where they find themselves in a financial stress at the moment. And we're not this to solve the problems of the world for them, but if we can pay the rent, utilities, car repair, whatever it might be, we can help that military family get over that rough spot for -- where they're experiencing some financial difficulties.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with retired Col. Jay Anderson, president of Operation Homefront. And the scenario you depicted there, colonel, spouse over deployed in the military. And then the spouse at home away from family -- living here in San Diego, they're not from San Diego. It seems that that would be magnified by the holiday season because it's a time for friends and family. It's a time to gather together. So what does Operation Homefront -- what is this adopt a family program that you've been talking about?
ANDERSON: Well, this is where community sponsors provide an entire holiday dinner with all the trimmings for the family, and it's estimated between 50 and a hundred dollars depending on the size of the family. And also a gifts reach for the children at a minimum of $35. When you've deployed and your family is back home and money is tight, to see the community step forward and help these family system fantastic. We just had Scripps health step up on Tuesday and agreed to adopt 55 families.
ANDERSON: Just a tremendous -- I was speechless when I found out. We also have our gift to you program, where we're going to support approximately 1,950 families in conjunction with Lincoln military housing.
CAVANAUGH: I want to stop you there and talk more about that. But I just want to get the adopt a family program and figure out how does it work. If somebody is listening to us here and says that's for me. That's what I want to do, what do they do?
ANDERSON: They go to our website which is the www.operationhomefront.net/SoCal, and we have a rotating banner in the middle of the page that says adopt a family, click on it, and it takes you through a variety of links.
CAVANAUGH: What do they have to commit to?
ANDERSON: Providing that holiday dinner for the family, and gifts for the minor aged children in the family.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And what are the types of things that a program like that will give a military family that they might go without during the holidays? Obviously there's the meal.
ANDERSON: The meal.
CAVANAUGH: But the kids are assured gifts.
ANDERSON: Exactly. We also run a toy drive for one of the other programs, but some of these families, money is really tight. And in this bad economy, if mom is not working, got kids at home, dad's over seas or mom is over seas, we got a lot of servicewomen that are deployed, the ability to give their family a nice Christmas, a nice holiday is instrumental. It is crucial, particularly as you cited, when you have a family that's here and maybe the rest of their next of kin is back in Wisconsin or Virginia or Florida, that they're not going to see over the holiday period.
CAVANAUGH: Now, tell us what the program our gift to you is about.
ANDERSON: This is where again where we work in conjunction with Lincoln military housing. They're the private organization that runs military housing, and we bring in the families for a day of festivities. That's where our Santa's workshop is, where the toys we collect are distributed. We also send each family home with a gift bag, and it will have food, food gift cards, to help extend that holiday period for them. In San Diego, we're going to do 1,050 families between San Diego, the Navy side, and the Marine side up in Oceanside. And if somebody would like to support that for $35, they can sponsor a military family for the holidays. I remember last year, as we were doing it here, a young child was there, and I was helping him, and he looked up at me, probably three years old, and spontaneously, all I was doing was just helping him get through the lines, he said my daddy's not going to be home for Christmas. And having missed too many Christmases and birthdays in my own career, that one hit me right in the solar plexus. It reminded me of why I'm doing this, why my staff is all of our volunteers are contributing. To help make the holidays a little brighter and better for these families.
CAVANAUGH: If someone can't donate or provide financial support, are there volunteer opportunities?
ANDERSON: Absolutely. At that same website they'll see a link to go to request application to be a volunteer. We have several hundred. And we always need more because it takes the whole town working together to help us get these projects up and running and to support the families, everything from case management, or those bags don't fill themselves, and the tents don't go up by themselves. If people would like to volunteer, certainly we'd like to have them with us.
CAVANAUGH: We just finished a topic about donations to food banks. And we heard that people are trying to give some of these individuals contributions are down because people are struggling. And I'm wondering how donations and how response is going for the drives that you're holding for Operation Homefront.
ANDERSON: We're similarly seeing a reduction. I'd also highlight to the listeners that there may be a misperception. While we have the troops coming home from Iraq, we still have tens of thousands of service members that are over seas. We have some that are departing shortly, and are currently gone from our own area. Carl Vincent leaves next week. We have marine units in Afghanistan right now. Unfortunately, we've seen the reports of some of them killed in action from those marine units. I'm concerned that the community not forget that we still have tens of thousands of young men and women over seas and their families back here to support.
CAVANAUGH: One of the things I think that is so special about Operation Homefront is that people can get really quite specific in their donations. They can donate to help make a car payment for a family or they can donate an insurance payment for a particular family. That must be hard to actually manage, technically, but are you committed to keeping that kind of donation flow up?
ANDERSON: Absolutely. If a donor says I want it to go to any. The specified purposes we have, or I want to help a Navy family or marine family, whatever they be, it's our obligation to our donors to keep that active. I have a staff that works really hard to make sure we do that all day every day.
CAVANAUGH: When is your event happening? Our gift to you?
ANDERSON: They start on the second of December, and we have seven of them throughout our AOR. And they can did to our website and see up coming events when the local events will be held.
CAVANAUGH: And when do you have to know? When does somebody have to adopt a family?
ANDERSON: We need that by about the 6th of December.
CAVANAUGH: And tell me a little bit more about continuing helping throughout the year.
ANDERSON: As I mentioned with all of our service members gone, and we know for the foreseeable future, they still will be. Anybody that wants to help a military family, it's great around the holidays, certainly. Upon but by volunteering or donating gently used baby items, because we're having a second baby boom, by the way. In my day, families had maybe 2, 3 children. And it's not uncommon for us to see military families with 4 and 5 children. If they would like to volunteer to go out to the events that we support, and we support large events to small events. Whatever it takes. Maybe going out to a ship for a predeployment brief. The opportunities exist there year-round. It's not only during the holidays.
CAVANAUGH: What do you get out of this?
ANDERSON: They tell me I'm too old and too broke to deploy anymore. What I get out of it is helping the military families. When I talk today a young wife whose husband is over seas and she's concerned, we can put a smile on her face or relieve some of that financial burden that she's experiencing at the moment, when I see them out thea the events and can see the smiles on their face, like we gave out backpacks with school supplies, and you see the smiles on the kids' faces, that's the payback for me. It's certainly not the money. It's not the short hours, no, we work long hours. It's continuing to help military families just like I did for 30 years on active duty.
CAVANAUGH: I have been speaking with retired marine colonel, jay Anderson, president of Operation Homefront. Thank you very much for coming in and speaking with us.
ANDERSON: Thank you, ma'am.