South Charlotte

Operation Homefront aids military families

It could be rent money, a grocery-store gift card or a computer to enable overseas communication.

It could be car repairs, a helping hand when moving or a support group for wives of wounded troops.

Whatever the support - financial or morale-boosting - these services are desperately needed and well-deserved, said Jane Weaver-Sobel, chapter president of Operation Homefront of North Carolina.

Operation Homefront of North Carolina, a nonprofit located off Park Road, provides emergency financial and morale assistance for troops and the families they leave behind, as well as for wounded troops when they return home.

"They're out there sacrificing for us - the least we could do is help make sure their families are stable," said Weaver-Sobel.

Weaver-Sobel calls Operation Homefront the military families' "Emergency Room."

"There are challenges they'd never expect, ones they aren't financially ready for," she said. "By the time they get to us, they've tried other resources, and we need to stop the bleeding."

There are 22 chapters of Operation Homefront nationwide. The North Carolina chapter is just 3 years old, even though only California and Texas have more military personnel than North Carolina.

Operation Homefront of North Carolina is located in Charlotte because of the proximity to big industry. The nonprofit receives no military or government funding, so it's funded by donations from individuals, foundations and corporations.

With just two full-time and four part-time employees, the North Carolina chapter is small and largely dependent on volunteers and the generosity of others. Even their office furniture was donated.

But though they're small in number, Operation Homefront of North Carolina has seen heart-breaking cases turn into heart-warming success stories.

In some instances, troops come back injured and are unable to maintain steady employment. They often wait one to 18 months for their first disability check, which means many families can't pay their rent and face eviction.

In the past two years, Operation Homefront saved 41 families from homelessness and 22 families from getting their cars repossessed. More than 250 families were able to eat, and buy baby supplies and clothes.

Nearly 400,000 gifts were given to military families during the holiday season.

This holiday season, people can participate in the nonprofit's "Adopt a Family" program, which costs about $30 a child and $50 for a holiday meal for the family. Gifts for the parents are optional.

Once a troop or military family contacts Operation Homefront for help, the turnaround time is about 48 hours, Weaver-Sobel said. Most of that time is spent gathering information and documentation.

Rather than just write families a check, Operation Homefront pays the landlord or utility company or repairman directly.

"(Donors) trust us with their money to make sure it's spent well," said Weaver-Sobel.

Weaver-Sobel said more than 30 percent of troops come back from war with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. These emotional issues, hidden wounds, aren't easily recognizable, but they can change the course of the troops' lives.

Some can't keep a job, so they're evicted and become homeless. Many can no longer relate to their spouse and children. In some instances, off-duty troops see suicide as the only solution to their problems.

Operation Homefront wants to ease those burdens and start the rebuilding process.

The troops aren't on everybody's mind all the time, Weaver-Sobel said.

"People are thinking, 'Are the Panthers going to win? Who's the quarterback? Are the banks going to stay?' They don't realize, day to day, that we are in a war, a complicated war, and we're probably not going to be out long as they're there, we're going to support them."