At 11:45 a.m., three days before Christmas, Garry Pook, finance director for Associated Churches, received a phone call alerting him to an emergency. A member of the 293rd Army National Guard unit, his wife and three children all under the age of 5 had been evicted from their home. If a new place couldn't be found almost immediately, the children would be placed with Child Protective Services over the holiday.
With help from the Northeast Indiana Base Community Council, Pook and Associated Churches were able to provide money for a deposit on an apartment, pay the first month's rent and deliver some food and toys. Christmas was saved.
This kind of rescue operation doesn't happen every day, but probably more often than expected.
Nearly three months ago, a soldier, his wife, 3-year-old daughter and 1-month old son were living in their car and didn't know where their next meal was coming from. Temporary housing until something more permanent became available, and a month's worth of food, new toys and baby supplies were provided. Now both parents are working full time and the family is thriving.
There are a handful of local nonprofit groups that work in support of area active military men and women, mostly revolving around the 293rd Army National Guard unit and the 122nd Indiana Air National Guard fighter wing. Mainly, they provide a safety net.
“We connect the dots more than anything,” said Patrick Dooley, Northeast Indiana Base Community Council president. “If there is a need and we can't solve it, we try to figure out who can. We often tell veterans as well, 'If we don't have a way to help you get your problem solved, we will try to find someone else who can.'”
Here are some local active-military support organizations:
Military Operation Kids, Volunteer Center. The Volunteer Center (www.volunteerfortwayne.org) offers various kinds of support for military families, including free help with tax work and volunteer lawyers when necessary.
The biggest facet is Operation Military Kids. Whenever the 122nd or 293rd is being deployed, volunteers organize events with the children while their parents may be involved in meetings. “That way the families can take care of the adult things, and we take care of the children,” executive director Ani Etter said.
The group also hosts family picnics and Christmas parties.
Because deployments and the numbers involved are meant to be secret, the bases need volunteers they trust for discretion.
“We listen to the children, trying to work through any anxieties they may have and alerting the air guard to work with those families,” Etter said.
There are usually 12 people volunteering at a time, but Etter said the entire organization has more than 1,100 volunteers.
Fort Wayne Blue Star Mothers. The group's main focus, according to its president, Barbara Eager, is to provide support for mothers of active military members or honorably discharged veterans. They also provide support for servicemen and women who may not have as much family help.
“We've all been in that position where you have to say goodbye,” Eager said. “And most of the time you don't know where they are going.”
Eager's son, Benjamin, a staff sergeant in the Indiana Army National Guard, is in his 15th year of serving.
“I was totally overwhelmed the first time my son deployed,” she said. “You think you are doing pretty good and then you are really slammed.”
After 11 years in Fort Wayne, the group has approximately 25 members, but they always welcome more, even those who are not family members of military personnel. One of their primary functions is sending care packages six times a year which include toiletries, seasonal snacks and protein separated into thirds.
The group meets the second Tuesday of the month at 7 p.m. at VFW Post 857 at Main Street and Lindenwood Avenue. Dues are $30 a year, and most of the money is raised during a fundraiser at Coyote Creek on Sept. 21.
For more information, go to www.fortwayneareabluestarmothers.com.
Associated Churches Food Banks. Along with helping supply 25 food banks in Fort Wayne, the group also has a military family support program. Sometimes that includes paying a utility bill, collecting clothing and toys for the children at Christmas and supplying Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners at the local posts, serving about 150 people.
For Christmas last year, the organization filled a 26-foot box truck, and finance director Garry Pook got to play Santa Claus.
“It's not one of our biggest programs, but it's one that is really needed in our community,” he said. “We coordinate our efforts with the other agencies and make sure we help as many individuals as we can.”
A large portion of the funds for military support comes from a Father's Day 5K race.
Northeast Indiana Base Community Council. Little more than 10 years ago, when it looked like Fort Wayne might be losing the 122nd Air National Guard to a base closure, the Fort Wayne Base Community Council was formed. Today, it's called the Northeast Indiana Base Community Council and it covers 11 counties.
“Originally, it started as more of an economic development group, and through the years we've worked to create the heritage park in front of the base,” president Patrick Dooley said.
The organization has also evolved to provide grants of up to $650 to active service members facing financial problems. Former service members who were active within the last 12 months are also eligible. Along with educating the community on the importance of the bases, the grant program has become the organization's cornerstone, Dooley said.
As an example, a service member recently needed $1,200 for a vehicle repair, and the group worked with Associated Churches and United Way 211 Veterans Connect to provide a solution.
“The belief is if you are active military you are being taken care of,” Dooley said. “They may get those things handled eventually, but we're quicker sometimes. We go speak to them before and after they are deployed to let them know we are there to help them.”
With more than 300 members, the organization disburses between $20,000 and $30,000 in grants each year, sometimes as many as eight per month. The money is raised through The Race for the Warrior held annually the last Saturday in April.
The organization's website is www.fortwaynebcc.org.