Middletown program is lending a hand to military families
By John Chambless
The way Pete Stinson sees it, military veterans have given too much to have the nation turn away when there's a need.
As the executive director of Operation Homefront's tri-state region, Stinson has worked for four years to connect veterans with goods and services that can make a big difference in their lives. In July, the national organization got a Middletown connection with the opening of an office on Broad Street, in a second-floor space that was donated by Pettinaro, the company that owns the shopping center.
The office was being used by Nick Callazzo, who had been coordinating help for area veterans on his own for several years. "I was just a guy doing things for veterans," Callazzo said. "I'm glad now that it's Operation Homefront. It's a national name, and I think we can do even more good things for veterans." Callazzo will be a regular presence at the site.
The office is nothing fancy, but it's a place that can be used for meetings, and for storing supplies that will be donated to military families in need, Stinson said. The office also lets the public know that goods and services are available locally. The office will be staffed regularly, Stinson said, and the website and phone line are always open.
Operation Homefront serves as a conduit for aid. "We try to connect locally, to work with active members of the military as well as the reserves, to provide family assistance," Stinson said. "We also work with VA facilities and deal directly with veterans from OIF [Operation Iraqi Freedom] and OEF [Operation Enduring Freedom]."
Stinson said the Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey region he oversees has three offices, and is hoping to open a fourth. "The office in Middletown can be used for in-kind donations, which are physical donations, not cash or checks," he said. "That could be a couch, or building supplies -- that kind of thing."
Referrals are handled online for the most part, Stinson said, when a family contacts Operation Homefront for help. "The office allows us to be as grassroots as possible," Stinson said. "This lets us get the word out that we have a presence in the community."
The organization provides emergency financial assistance to post-9/11 veterans who have been injured in the line of duty. That money can be for food, housing, a sudden car repair or home repair. "In his region, we've more than doubled the dollar amount in total assistance from 2012 to 2013," Stinson said. "There's a growing need in the Delaware area. And we do expect another increase in 2014."
In August, Operation Homefront holds a backpack giveaway for children of veterans at the Dover Air Force Base. Dollar Tree stores collect donations of school supplies across the country for the giveaway. "We provide the backpacks to go with the school supplies," Stinson said.
Every winter, Operation Homefront provides toys for military families, and Dollar Tree contributes stocking-stuffer gifts to go along with them.
"We also hosted a baby shower in May at the Dover base," Stinson said. "We called it 'Star Spangled Babies.' It's for expectant mothers at the base. We provided them with some education, a variety of basic supplies, gift cards, that sort of thing."
There's also a two-year-old program called Homes on the Homefront, Stinson said. "We provide mortgage-free homes to veterans of any generation. We've already given five homes in Delaware, which is pretty outstanding. Nationwide, we have done between 350 and 400 homes. They come from a couple of banks. We work with Home Depot to do any rehabilitation, or make the homes ADA compliant."
With no shortage of people who need help, Stinson said the most important thing the public can do is make a tax-deductible contribution. People can also contribute their time to help with logistics of delivering items to families if necessary.
"The most important things are the financial donations that drive everything we do," Stinson said. "We just want to get the word out about what we do. And we're very efficient and effective, with 93 cents of every dollar going to programs and services."
The new office of Operation Homefront is at 811 N. Broad St., Middletown, in the offices above the Goodwill store. Appointments can be made by calling 800-779-5892. Online resources are at www.operationhomefront.net, Facebook at www.facebook.com/ohpadenj, or Twitter, @OH_PADENJ.
To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.