By Derek GeanMarch 6, 2009
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. - The annual Fort Leonard Wood Army Emergency Relief Campaign began Sunday and is scheduled to last through May 15.
This year, organizers have set a fundraising goal of $250,000 for Fort Leonard Wood. Locally, AER raised $308,037, last year, and surpassed their goal by more than $50,000.
The AER program is designed to be the Soldier's first line of aid during life's trying times. AER provides assistance, in the form of loans or grants, to Soldiers in financial distress.
Chuck Matthews, AER coordinator said AER is available when Soldiers need assistance with emergency leave, food and childcare cost, etc. The program also helps Soldiers when facing challenges, such as home foreclosures or vehicle repossessions. The program is designed to be a helping-hand when unforeseen circumstances arise.
"AER was founded on the principal of 'Soldiers helping Soldiers,' and (more than) 95 percent of all AER funds come from active and retired Soldier donations. It is the primary way that Soldiers help each other with emergency needs," Matthews said.
"Locally, AER has given out three times what it took in the past four years running," Matthews said. "In that same four years, (the) local AER office has provided 238 percent more in no-interest loans, 305 percent more grants, (and) provided $562,971 more in local assistance. Worldwide, AER provided $70 million (in) assistance to 70,000 members, and an additional $13 million to 2,800 dependents in scholarships just in 2008."
Col. John Megnia, Garrison commander, helped lead the way for local Soldiers to donate. Megnia made his donation Monday, and used the time as an opportunity to promote the program.
"It's Soldiers taking care of Soldiers and their families," Megnia said. "It is probably one of best programs for Soldiers in need. It gives a Solider and their family an opportunity to get a no interest loan for a bona fide need, without resorting to a predatory lending organization."
Command Sgt. Maj. Karl Groninger, who also donated along with Megnia, echoed Megnia's sentiments about Soldiers turning to predatory lenders in times of need.
"AER should be the first option in times of need," Groninger said.
Megnia said often Soldiers have needs and donating to AER helps Soldiers meet those needs.
"With close to one million, either loaned or granted this year, it shows there is a need for an organization like AER to take care of families," Megnia said.
To participate in the AER campaign, Soldiers can contact their local unit campaign representative, or call 596.0212 for a donation form or further information. Donations can also be made at the AER Web site, www.aerhq.org, by clicking on the donation link. Donors can donate by payroll allotment, cash, check, money order or by credit card, online. While donations are not solicited from civilians, they can contribute by going to Web site or calling 596.0212.