Volunteers give back to service members this holiday season

Nonprofits this holiday season are offering alternative gift-giving ideas that support the troops and give volunteers the opportunity to honor their loved ones.

"Men and women in uniform give to their country every single day," said Kate Kohler, former Army captain and chief operating officer for the Pentagon Federal Credit Union Foundation, a national nonprofit providing military families with financial literacy training, housing assistance and care for wounded service members. "We think an appropriate way to recognize them during the holidays is to give back."

Donors can honor friends or family members who serve by making a donation to the PenFed Foundation in their name. At PenFed, donors can choose the program they would like to support, from grants for first-time home buyers and money management training, to child care support for wounded service members and free lodging for soldiers being treated at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Palo Alto, Calif. The PenFed Foundation currently is working to build a $12.5 million dollar facility to house wounded service members as they undergo treatment at the hospital.

"Sometimes the best gift you can give is a helping hand," said Kohler.

Other nonprofits offering alternative gift-giving ideas include:

  • United Service Organization: USO is a congressionally chartered nonprofit dedicated to lifting the spirits of troops stationed abroad. A holiday donation to the USO can help bring the comforts of home to soldiers through programs that supply care packages, or free phone cards to call family members. Donations can be made online in the name of a loved one.
  • The Yellow Ribbon Fund Inc.: The fund assists service members and their families as they undergo treatment at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington or the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Donations to the Yellow Ribbon Fund can be made online in a loved one's name and will provide wounded soldiers with free transportation to and from the hospital and free lodging nearby. Volunteers also can take service members and their children on holiday outings, or help with grocery shopping and babysitting.
  • The Military, Veterans and Patriotic Service Organizations of America: MVPSOA is a nonprofit that screens charities offering a variety of services to military members. The organization offers gift certificates that allow the recipient to direct donated funds to his or her preferred organization from a list of 75 legitimate nonprofits. Gift certificates can be purchased online and e-mailed directly to the recipient.
  • The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial: In November nearly 400 hundred people gathered in Washington for the groundbreaking of the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial. Private donations are funding the memorial, scheduled to be completed by Veteran's Day 2012. Donations can be made online, by mail, or by phone in a loved one's name, and donors can chose from one of 15 cards with images of the future memorial to give to a friend or family member.

CORRECTION: The original version of the story omitted a word in the name of the Pentagon Federal Credit Union Foundation.

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