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10 Ways to Help Veterans and Their Families

Give back to soldiers and their families this month

Veterans Day, formerly known as Armistice Day, falls on November 11, a symbolic date marking the official end of World War I. The solemn anniversary is an opportune occasion to not only say “thank you” but as fellow citizens to honor all our military veterans who’ve served bravely and deserve to be supported in whatever way they need.

This month, we recommend talking with your kids about what you as a family can do to get involved. So below we’ve listed 10 worthy projects—ranging from donations drives and 5Ks to student ambassador programs and recording oral histories—each led by nonprofits and organizations whose primary aim is to help military families heal and thrive.

1. Become a Student Ambassador
Wounded Warrior Project (WPP) provides lifesaving services to veterans who’ve incurred a physical or mental injury, illness or wound since the September 11 attacks, and in 2020, launched a student ambassador program called Honor Their Courage. Kids in kindergarten through 12th grades and their teachers can register their school or classroom to access to educational resources and help raise awareness for the nonprofit and its cause.

WPP also accepts in-kind donations of gift cards (to restaurants and clothing and grocery stores), office supplies, yoga mats, jump ropes, supplies for recreational activities like fishing trips, among other items.

2. Share Their Stories
The U.S. Congress-founded Veterans History Project is an ongoing archive of first-hand accounts of American veterans who served, in any capacity, in major conflicts and wars of the past century. To help ensure that these oral histories are not lost to the passing of time, you can download a kit that will assist you in conducting an interview with a veteran family member (such as elderly grandparents) or another a local service member and submit their oral history to the Library of Congress’ American Folklife Center.

3. Join a Charity Walk/Run
Show up for military families by showing up in-person for the Travis Manion Foundation‘s 9/11 Heroes Run each year in Dallas-Fort Worth. Wounded Warriors Project hosts their own Carry Forward 5K, which you can join in-person in select cities throughout the year, or sign up with the virtual option to walk/run your own neighborhood at any time.

For local charity runs and other family fun events, visit dfwchild.com/calendar.

4. Help Kids Who are Hurting
Snowball Express, which children who’ve lost their parents on active duty since 9/11, is one of many projects of the Gary Sinise Foundation, headed by the namesake actor. Snowball Express offers year-round support and activities to help these kids bond together, create happy memories and work through the grief that has disrupted their lives. You and your family can donate to Snowball Express to help the nonprofit treat 1,750-plus family members to a five-day trip to Disney World, typically held every December.

5. Give to Local Homeless Vets
Homelessness is disproportionately high among veterans. Homeless Veterans Services of Dallas (HVSD) is a volunteer-driven organization that helps local vets and their families climb out of homelessness into independent living. HVSD most often needs in-kind donations for hygiene items and clothing, especially winter clothing like sweatshirts, coats and hats. (See the full wish list and Amazon wish list here.) So take your family shopping, or team up with a few other families to make a day of it. Then contact HVSD to arrange pick-up, or drop off your donations at the Veterans Resource Center (4900 S. Lancaster Road, Dallas). Due to COVID-19 precautions, HVSD only accepts new items.

6. Send a Special Gift
Operation Gratitude welcomes donations of handmade items including paracord bracelets, handmade or hand-written cards and letters of appreciation, and even extra Halloween candy for not only deployed troops currently serving overseas for but also veterans, first responders, wounded heroes and their caregivers. Look online for the letter writing toolkit to get started. To send more than letters, you can join the “brigade” and send one care package for $15 each month.

7. Help Train a Service Dog
Rockwall-based Patriot PAWS trains service dogs for disabled veterans, and they need families to help socialize the puppies. Full-time puppy raisers keep a puppy for 3–4 months and attend twice-monthly training sessions. Weekend puppy raisers step in when the puppies need somewhere to go just for a few days, no long-term commitment required. Patriot PAWS says that families with children are wonderful for socializing the puppies, and if you’re thinking of buying a pet this could be the perfect trial run. For more information, contact the office at 972/772-3282 or office@patriotpaws.org.

8. Throw a Baby Shower
The Soldiers’ Angels Baby Brigade throws virtual baby showers for expecting military families and provided telehealth services for new mothers. Armed with crafting supplies, the Angels shower each mom-to-be with baskets full of baby necessities as well as homemade blankets, onesies, hats, bibs and other gifts. Click here to join the team as a volunteer or to reach out for participation as a recipient.

Plus, Soldiers’ Angels accepts in-kind donations of your extra Halloween candy. Drop off your candy at locations on the Treats for Troops map (four locations in Dallas-Fort Worth), or mail it to Soldiers’ Angels directly to 2895 NE Loop 410, Suite 107, San Antonio, Texas 78218.

9. Make Bedtime Stories Happy
Help a soldier read a bedtime story to his kids back home through United Through Reading’s military program. A soldier heading overseas can record himself or herself reading a book to their kids, and USO DFW will send the recording and the book back to the soldier’s family. So, round up your kiddos for a trip to the bookstore and let them pick out a recommended book to purchase. (They ask for no books related to politics or religion, please.) Then next time you’re flying out of the airport on a family trip, bring the books with you through security and donate them to the USO station at Terminal B, Gate 49. Or if you’re not going through security, you can also drop off books at the admin office, located at Terminal B, Gate 20. Call 972/973-7708 or 972/973-2205 for any questions.

10. Donate Frequent Flier Miles
If you fly Alaska Airlines, Delta, Frontier or United, consider donating your family’s frequent flier miles (hello, holiday travel!) to Fisher House’s Hero Miles program. Your donation covers round-trip airfare for family members to visit wounded service members in treatment at VA hospitals.

This article was originally published in November 2018.

Image: iStock