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Simple ways to help military families

By Betsy Anderson, CNN
Savannah Dejong, with son Rhone, 3, greets her husband, Daniel, in Hawaii after his seven-month deployment to Afghanistan.
Savannah Dejong, with son Rhone, 3, greets her husband, Daniel, in Hawaii after his seven-month deployment to Afghanistan.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Simple ways to help military families can make an impact
  • You don't have to spend a lot of money to show you care
  • Just saying "thank you" can go a long way
RELATED TOPICS

(CNN) -- For every man or woman serving our country in the U.S. military, there is a family left behind. The massive military deployment in the past 10 years has left the families of our armed forces stretched emotionally and financially.

Here at Impact your World, we are all about helping you help others. This Memorial Day, we want to remember not only the men and women who have died serving America, but also their families. The people left without a mother, father, wife, husband, son or daughter for weeks, for months ... or forever. They are the quiet casualties of war.

There are many organizations devoted to meeting the needs of military families. We talked with some of them to find some very simple ways you could help someone right now, today.

Here are some ideas:

Honor the fallen

This is what Memorial Day is all about. It was created to honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for their country. If you can't make it to your local cemetery to pay tribute to the men and women who have died for us, you can do it online.

Military Families United has created The National Gold Star Family Registry. It is considered an online monument that gives families and friends a chance to leave written tributes to honor the life of a person who died defending freedom. Families find it healing to read and remember the lives of their loved ones.

Even if you don't know someone who died in defense of the nation, you can still visit the website and honor those who have.

Make it personal

For the families of those still serving, keeping it all together stateside can be tough. Operation Homefront is an organization focused on the specific needs of military families, from helping to pay a bill or find a place to stay to getting diapers. The organization has helped fulfill more than 400,000 requests for help since it started in 2002.

What we really like about Operation Homefront was the need/request "ticker" at the top of its website. Click on the request in the ticker, and it tells you exactly where the need is and how to help. Operation Homefront checks every request out to make sure it's legitimate. It's truly an opportunity to make a difference and know exactly how your gift or contribution will be used.

First lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Joe Biden, launched a program in April called Joining Forces, which is also dedicated to helping military families. You can find ways to help military families by searching your ZIP code on the website.

Send a stuffed toy

When Mom or Dad wears combat boots, sometimes what a child may need is a hug or at least something to hold. California-based Operation Gratitude has a program called Battalion Buddies that provides special stuffed toys to the sons and daughters of U.S. military personnel as their units get ready to deploy.

You can send a stuffed animal from the size of a Beanie Baby up to 18 inches tall to:

Operation Gratitude
17330 Victory Boulevard
Van Nuys, CA 91406
Attn: Battalion Buddies Program

You can also include letters to the families and children, and Operation Gratitude will deliver those along with the stuffed animals.

Operation Gratitude has shipped more than 600,000 care packages to servicemen and women overseas, and they always have included a small stuffed animal. The organization learned the troops give them away to children in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Some of the love is staying home. Operation Gratitude sends the specially outfitted toys in a care package and lets the kids know a similar package was also sent to their mommy or daddy.

Help send a kid to camp

Military Families United provides support for families of active duty servicemen and women; this includes children of the deployed through a program called Camp Desert Kids.

The mission is to help military children better understand the deployments that shape their lives. The camp uses games, crafts, regional food and drink to teach kids about the place their parents are serving. Kids even get the chance to dress up like Mom or Dad in full camouflage gear.

To support Camp Desert Kids, visit the website to make a donation to Military Families United or volunteer to help at an upcoming camp.

Get busy

Offer to help the family of a deployed service member in your community. While service members are away, their spouses carry double the responsibility. Offering to mow the lawn, make dinner or baby-sit the kids for an afternoon will mean the world to a spouse left behind.

Say thank you

It can be hard to approach a family after the loss of a loved one in war. According to Military Families United, try saying "Thank you for your sacrifice" instead of "I'm sorry for your loss." To thank them makes it personal and a bit easier to respond to.

It's also helpful if you can personalize it even more, if you know the name of their fallen soldier, by saying "Thank you for your sacrifice, I'd like to know more about your son Mike." That leaves the door open for them to talk more.

This Memorial Day weekend, take some time to remember those who have died serving this country or are serving in a combat zone, but also recognize the people behind the troops with a simple act of kindness.

 
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