By Latayne C. Scott

Many Americans want to do something to show their appreciation for the military.

Some choose to work with one of more than 400,000 organizations that support the military because a group effort often maximizes the help of individuals, through donated materials and other bulk resources. For instance, you probably can’t personally construct a smart home for a disabled servicemember like the Gary Sinise Foundation does.   

But could you grow a beard? Run a race? Set up a lemonade stand for a “real Lt. Dan”?  Sinise says they’ll take it.  

Here are some other ways you can volunteer to benefit servicemembers, veterans, and military families.  

Use your unique talents and abilities: Are you good at filling out tax returns? Can you set up a simple website? Can you offer college or career counseling or mentoring? Do you have a small business? If you’ve answered yes, then check out the Thank A Vet Network, which is a national registry that connects you to eligible injured veterans and military families in need of these services.   

Collect things: Soldiers’ Angels can show you how to set up a drive to collect used electronic devices, cellphones and accessories, laptops, and other items. Into recycling? You can collect printer and toner cartridges to benefit Soldiers’ Angels, too.  

Un-collect things: Operation Gratitude has a program to distribute Beanie Babies to service people. Really.   

Militarize your hobbies: Do you quilt? Organizations like Quilts of Valor want you. Knit or crochet? Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation or Operation Gratitude will sign you up. Bake cookies or cakes? Operation We Are Here and Angel Bakers Team can tell you how to package and ship them to servicemembers.  

Get the teenagers and kids involved: Through Operation Gratitude, teenagers and kids can learn how to create “cool-ties” or even paracord survival bracelets for deployed military personnel — and get community service certification for their efforts. They can discover the frillier side of helping with Operation Top Knot and Operation Shower, both of which provide virtual and on-site baby showers for military families, and Brides Across America, which gives volunteers ways to help provide wedding dresses and accessories for military couples.

Send care packages — hundreds of thousands of them: Operation Gratitude, Operation We Are Here, The Hugs Project, Operation Interdependence, local chapters of Blue Star Mothers, and many other organizations need help packing snacks, hygiene items, magazines, and other items to mail to deployed military personnel.   

The personal touch: You can serve as a greeter at an airport or as a listening friend at a veterans’ retirement home. Write “a letter from home” to servicememembers from you personally or from hundreds who will sign them at tables you can set up in shopping centers and malls as suggested by the National Remember Our Troops Campaign. An inexpensive and modern option is personalized email, accompanied by a “Cup of joe for a Joe” code through Green Beans Coffee.   

“I appreciated that almost more than 15 or so cards from people I didn’t even know,” says Maj. Carla Gleason, USAF, of treasured correspondence sent to her by Blue Star Moms during her recent deployment overseas. “The [military] recipient gets a glimpse into the lives of the individuals he or she is serving for,” Gleason says. “Sometimes it’s inspiring to remember that. People who write personal letters of thanks helped me remember why I chose to leave my family for a time and serve my country.”  

Find local opportunities: Locally, veterans’ medical facilities look for volunteers to drive people to appointments and provide other needed help. For other opportunities, contact your neighborhood United Way, United Service Organizations, Disabled American Veterans, Blue Star Mothers chapters, any VFW Post, or MOAA chapter. Many of the other organizations mentioned above have local offices as well.  

But what about others who might ask for your time and money to benefit military causes? Read “Be Smart About Charitable Giving” and “Your Guide to Charity Evaluation Tools” for information and resources that will help you choose and give to a charity with confidence.