It's the ultimate act of patriotism: military members put their lives on the line to protect our freedoms and maintain our safety. You may not see their actions, or the scars that they incur during their service, but their work has a lasting impact that many times comes at a personal cost.
Helping military families is a wonderful way to show your appreciation and give back to our country's service members. We've compiled a list of meaningful ways to help our nation's heroes this Memorial Day and beyond.
Helping Military Families Starts With Volunteering Your Time
A great way to show support for military members and their families is to volunteer with reputable organizations and connect with active members and veterans in your community. Here are some simple ways to get started.
Connect With Veterans or Wounded Service Members
Paying a visit to a veteran or a service member who was injured or disabled in the line of duty is a thoughtful way to show your support and to help that individual feel cared for and valued. You can contact nursing homes or VA hospitals in your area about the possibility of scheduling a visit. When you go, bring a small gift, a card, or even a personal story about your connection to the military.
Another great way to bring comfort and show your appreciation is to invite a service member or two to your home for dinner, whether it be during the holidays or on a rainy evening. You can find an installation near you and ask to speak to their community relations representative about connecting with a service member who is stationed alone in your area.
You can also request to be connected with a service member's family and provide help if they are new to the area or if they have a family member who has been deployed.
Show Your Gratitude in Writing
Operation Gratitude responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by allowing individuals, groups, and businesses to volunteer virtually. Volunteers can send letters, birthday greetings, and handmade items. Check out their website to register.
Find Opportunities With Soldiers' Angels
Soldiers' Angels is an organization that offers in person and virtual volunteer opportunities. You can register to join a team that focuses on a specific effort. These include baking treats for deployed military members, hosting virtual baby showers for expecting military families, adopting a soldier and sending care packages to them throughout their deployment, or adopting a military family during the holidays.
Place Flags at Gravesites
Placing flags near the gravesites of veterans on Memorial Day is a beautiful way to honor those who have died serving their country. Those interested can contact a Veterans of Foreign Wars post or a Red Cross in your area about this volunteer opportunity. You can find additional ways to give back with the organization Blue Star Families as well.
Offer Help With Childcare
Spouses of active-duty military members carry all the weight in the home. This can put a lot of stress on the primary caregiver who never gets an opportunity for a break. For those looking to help, consider speaking with church leaders about introductions to new military families in your place of worship. This can give you the opportunity to make new friends and offer some assistance.
You can also set up a profile on babysitting websites like Sittercity to offer free or reduced babysitting services for families with a deployed parent. This doesn't seem like much, but helping military families with childcare can take a big weight off a parent's shoulders when they have errands like doctor's appointments that require they leave their children at home.
The Modern War Institute at West Point notes that "22 percent of military families who need childcare can't access it." This limits their ability to work and function throughout their daily life.
Foster a Pet
You can also help single military service members care for their pets while they are deployed through Dogs on Deployment. You can sign up to provide a pet a safe and loving home while their parent is away.
Train a Service Dog
Patriot Paws and K9s for Warriors are just two of the amazing organizations that work to provide wounded veterans with fully trained service dogs. These volunteer opportunities allow individuals and families to take part in the fostering and training of these service animals so that they can later help a veteran in need. It is a three- to six-month long commitment, but these organizations help to save the lives of rescue animals and give a wounded vet the help they need when they come home.
Research shows that military veterans who have PTSD "showed significantly less PTSD related symptoms, [had a] better sleep quality, and [a] better wellbeing experience" when they were paired with a companion service dog.
Pay It Forward on a Military Holiday or Any Day of the Week
While you are out and about having fun on Memorial Day or the Fourth of July, remember the true meaning behind these holidays. Why are you celebrating? Military members sacrificed for you to have fun, so show them some love on these holidays with small acts of kindness.
If you know a military member in your community, make a care package and drop it at their door. If you're eating out at a restaurant and spot a veteran at a table nearby, speak to their server about buying their meal. Or simply take the time to walk up to a veteran and say 'thank you for your service.'
Days to Consider Honoring Military Members:
- Armed Forces Day [Third Saturday in May]
- Memorial Day [Last Monday in May]
- Independence Day [July 4th]
- Patriot Day [September 11th]
- Veteran's Day [November 11th]
Check out a full list of American military days here.
Make or Collect Donations to Further Help Military Families
If your time is limited, there is an array of non-profit organizations you can donate to that will provide financial assistance to military members who are experiencing temporary financial hardships.
You can also do things such as donate your excess Halloween candy to get shipped to the troops. Below are additional ways in which you can provide financial donations to support causes that benefit military members and their families.
Donate for Financial Support
Did you know that 40% of military children experience food insecurity? How about the fact that military children will go through an average of six to nine moves by the time they reach the 12th grade? Living on a fixed income can be hard on military families, but financial assistance can help. Here are some organizations to consider:
- Operation Homefront works to help military families meet their basic needs. Whether it's for supporting a veteran who lost their job, providing funding for problems posed by COVID-19, or assisting a veteran with their monthly bills, you can check out current causes to donate to in the needs section of their website.
- Armed Services YMCA provides assistance with childcare and aids in sending children of military families to camps and after-school programs.
- Military Families United and the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society help military families experiencing financial hardships due to deployments, family emergencies, or other challenges related to military life.
Donate for Wounded Warriors
Donations to The American Legion's Operation help provide wounded service members with comfort items and assistance. You can visit their webpage to make a donation. The Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) also seeks to give back to soldiers wounded in the line of duty.
They have several programs covering various moments in a soldier's journey to wellness. Some services they offer are home health, stress management and resiliency training, and alternative therapies such as art, music, or equine therapy. You can donate via their online donation page.
Help Provide Scholarships
The relocations required when married to a soldier, combined with financial hardships, often make it difficult for a spouse to complete college. The National Military Family Association (NMFA) helps military families by providing scholarships.
The NMFA also has a program called Operation Purple, which coordinates family retreats and camps for children in military families. You can help support these causes by donating to the NMFA.
Support With Housing
While a military veteran is receiving treatment at a medical center, the family needs lodging so they can be near their family member. Fisher House Foundation provides housing options for these families at no charge. Every major military medical center and VA hospital in the United States has at least one Fisher House facility available, with operations in Europe as well. Fisher House Foundation also offers scholarships to military spouses and children.
Additionally, wounded soldiers may come back to civilian living, requiring special adjustments to their homes, but they may not have the financial means to implement such changes. That is where Homes for Our Troops steps in and provides relief. The organization builds new homes for wounded soldiers. There are various ways that you can support their cause, such as giving donations or hosting a fundraiser.
Assist With Travel
In addition, Fisher House runs a program called the Hero Miles. This allows you to donate your frequent flyer miles so that family members can be by the bedside of their wounded soldier. Participating airlines include Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, and United Airlines. The Hero Miles program webpage has links to these airlines that will get you to their respective air miles donation pages.
Donate Your Hotel Points
Similarly, the Fisher House Foundation also accepts hotel reward points through their Hotels for Heroes program. These hotel reward points are then given to military families to stay in a hotel near their wounded soldier, should there be no room at the local Fisher House. Participating hotels include Best Western, Choice Hotels, Hilton, Marriott, and Wyndham. You can give donations to serve these causes on their Hotels for Heros webpage.
Be Cautious About Scams
Many organizations may call you to ask for donations, and while some might be legitimate, many are not. The Federal Trade Commission suggests checking out a charity thoroughly before helping military families with donations. You can search for details on sites like the National Resource Directory, Charity Navigator, GuideStar, Better Business Bureau and Charity Watch.
Support the Troops and Their Families
Soldiers, their partners, and their children make significant sacrifices to serve our country. Helping military families in both big and small ways can make a big difference in their lives. Remember that it doesn't need to be a holiday for you to make a difference in one of these selfless individuals' lives.