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MainStreet is on a mission to find the charitable organizations most worthy of your donations. We focus on their effectiveness and the amount of money they budget for actual good deeds, as opposed to that which goes to overhead.

This week we’re looking at Operation Homefront.

A nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, Operation Homefront provides emergency help to soldiers, the families they leave behind and wounded veterans who have returned home.

Who they are and what they do: Started in San Diego seven years ago by a group of military families, Operation Homefront provides a variety of services to soldiers and their families, including rent and mortgage assistance, utilities payments, car payments and assistance with other financial emergencies.

“We also get frequent requests for food and baby items like formula, diapers, and baby furniture,” says Amy Palmer, chief operating officer.

With so many soldiers being deployed for military service overseas, it’s not surprising that Operation Homefront is busier than ever. “Our caseload has almost doubled each year over the last four years,” Palmer says. “From 2007 to 2008 alone, our caseload went from about 25,000 to 65,000 families.” 

Like most other Americans, military families are feeling the painful effects of the economic crisis.

“Contrary to popular belief, the military is not recession-proof,” Palmer says. “From 2007 to 2008, the number of military families facing foreclosure increased 50%. So more and more families are turning to us for help with mortgage payments and preventing foreclosure. In some cases, we even step in to negotiate loan modifications to help families keep their homes.”

“More and more service members are going on longer and more frequent deployments," she adds. "This hits our Guard and Reserve families particularly hard because more often than not that soldier has left a higher-paying job to serve his country. Many of our clients are on a third or fourth deployment, and their finances are stretched further than they've ever been. We also have more soldiers than ever surviving devastating injuries because of the improvements in both triage and critical medical care.”

As a result, the organization has also devoted a lot of attention to injured veterans. “In 2005, we recognized a need in the wounded warrior community,” Palmer says. “These injured service members were waiting 18 months or longer for their benefit payments to start. All too often, the wife had to quit her job to take care of her wounded husband. So they'd be stuck in financial limbo as they waited for government benefit checks to start arriving. Even before our current economic downturn, more and more wounded warrior families started fighting to keep their homes and pay their bills because they had no income for well over a year.” Operation Homefront’s current caseload is about evenly split between active soldiers (and their families) and wounded veterans.

How they spend your money: Operation Homefront spends 92 cents of every dollar on programs and services, keeping expenses low by relying on a network on more than 4,500 volunteers, many of whom are former clients.

“We all make the very most out of the limited resources we have, with priority always going to services to our clients,” Palmer says. “We've worked hard to build a name for ourselves within the military community as a go-to source for reliable and efficient help, so word-of-mouth has been an inexpensive and very effective form of free advertising. We also make the most of our Web presence and email outreach instead of more traditional and expensive fundraising venues like direct mail or phone solicitation.”

How to help
: Operation Homefront welcomes help in many forms, including donations of cash, time or talent. “We deeply appreciate each and every gift we receive,” Palmer says. “We know that no matter what their thoughts are on the war, Americans want to help our men and women in uniform.”

To volunteer, visit Operation Homefront.

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