By Allison Perkins, Operation HomefrontAugust 10, 2011
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii -- Connor McQuaig started his first day of kindergarten at Solomon Elementary School, here, this year.
He arrived full of excitement and anticipation, and with the help of Operation Homefront, he also came with a new backpack full of supplies.
Connor and his brother Patrick, a first-grader, were among 200 military children who received free backpacks, supplies and printers from the national nonprofit organization during the group’s annual Back-to-School Brigade event, here, July 29.
Families said the giveaway was especially helpful here in Hawaii, where the high cost of living makes school supply shopping even more costly.
“This is very helpful,” said Erin McQuaig, the boys’ mother. “My husband is deployed, and this saves me a lot of shopping. It’s wonderful what they do for the community.”
Emily Brooks, Army wife and mother of seven, brought her oldest son to help carry the huge load of crayons, folders, paper, markers and backpacks, among other items.
“This is super helpful; we have six kids in school, so you can imagine how much money we spend on supplies,” she said.
Operation Homefront operates 23 chapters across the U.S.
Last year, the organization helped 167,348 military families across the country with everything from paying utility bills to providing free housing to wounded warriors, all through donations from sponsors.
Locally, chapter organizers said families have asked for help purchasing groceries.
Ashley Matta, volunteer community team leader, said the high cost of living in Hawaii and the lack of communication that sometimes happens between deployed Soldiers and their families leaves many military homes with empty cupboards.
“Often, there is a disconnect between the family and the Soldier, and they don’t want to tell the Soldier they are struggling financially, but they are,” Matta said. “Often, they don’t even have enough to buy food.”
Operation Homefront is here to make sure those families can sit down to dinner.
Once a family fills out the appropriate paperwork with the chapter, and their need is verified, volunteers can quickly fill the family’s kitchen. The financial help is a donation, and families are not asked to pay back any amount. Eligible service members must be staff sergeant (E-6) or below in rank.
Wounded warriors of any rank can receive assistance.
“That’s one of the largest selling points … (that) this is not a loan; it’s a gift,” Matta said.
In Hawaii, organizers said military families may not have support readily available from family and friends because of the distance from the mainland. Chapter volunteers said they are hoping to help fill that gap and be the local support system.
“So many service members are deployed here, and their families are not only without them for a year but also (are) thousands of miles away from their extended families,” Matta said. “It’s important to build that support system here, and we want to be an important part of that.”
Plans are in the works for holiday giveaways this winter and spring.
This fall, Operation Homefront Hawaii will also host a Homefront Celebration, an evening dedicated to military spouses that includes dinner, a motivational speaker and door prizes.