Midtown Raleigh News

Support for soldiers, with a personal touch

While many groups encourage U.S. troops deployed overseas by sending care packages, a Raleigh-based nonprofit’s mission is to welcome our warriors home.

Support U.S. Armed Forces delivers hundreds of care packages of toiletries, energy drinks, snacks, vitamins and more to returning soldiers – always with a thank-you note also tucked inside.

The group also supplies goody boxes filled with relaxing candles and handy cleaning supplies to families whose soldiers are still overseas.

“I want them to have a nice, positive feeling about what they’re doing,” said Neal Clark, founder and president of the organization. “I want them to know, what you did wasn’t just 12 months in the sand, it was worth something and we know that.”

That can mean a lot to soldiers returning from deployment, especially young soldiers living in the barracks who do not have a permanent, already-organized home waiting for them, said Catherine Mansfield, volunteer services coordinator under Army community service at Fort Bragg.

“They get to see someone thinks about them coming home,” Mansfield said. “A lot of soldiers don’t have a lot of family or get many packages while they’re gone, so it’s nice to get one when they get back – a nice welcome home gesture.”

Not a veteran himself, Clark founded the organization in 2009 after looking at suicide and divorce rates among members of the military. He wanted to find a way of offering morale-boosting support that was both helpful and not already common.

“Morale at that time was really bad,” Clark said. “I wanted to make sure these guys knew when they came home that their country appreciated them. Care packages are a tangible way to hand them something they like, smile and say thank you.”

Clark initially put in $20,000 of his own money to start the organization. The group raised a little more than $1 million in the past year, he said, and has given out about 22,000 care packages throughout the country, mostly in North Carolina. The group’s 2010 audits show that 87 percent of money raised goes back to troops and their families, Clark said.

In addition to the welcome home and family care packages, the group is also involved in veterans appreciation events and veterans programs.

And with more soldiers than ever slated to return as U.S. involvement in Afghanistan winds down to 2014, Clark says, he expects to stay busy.