The US Armed Forces have almost 1.5 million active duty members, but that statistic doesn’t tell the whole story. For every two active duty soldiers, there are three immediate family members who also share the sacrifice of a career in the army.
For the nearly 2 million Americans with immediate family members on active duty, their loved ones don’t have to be fighting overseas for them to be dearly missed. Sometimes, they’re simply stationed in far-away places for most of the year with limited ways to stay in touch with folks back at home.
But, since World War II, a national group with chapters throughout the Bay Area and California has existed for the sole purpose of doing what they can to lift the burden on armed forces members, veterans and their families. They’re called Blue Star Mothers of America.
“Our men and women that serve, they deserve to be looked up to, they deserve to have our thanks, and they need to know that we appreciate every single thing they do for us so that we have the rights that we have and we can live the way that we live,” Vintage Valley Blue Star Mothers President Nicole Stinnett said.
Blue Star Mothers—or Blue Star Moms, for short—is a nonprofit dedicated to supporting members of the armed forces and their families however they can. Primarily, this involves sending letters, care packages, holding events, arranging for family meet-ups, and finding ways to honor family members for their sacrifice.
“It’s the family. It’s not just the person being deployed,” Stinnett said. “It’s their mother, their grandparent, their aunt or uncle, their spouse and, of course, their children. It’s everybody that’s in it together.”
Despite their title, Blue Star Moms isn’t just for moms—anyone who cares about helping our armed forces is welcome to join, whether you’re a mother, father, brother, sister, a friend, or just a concerned citizen. Every mother who has a child in the armed services is automatically considered a Blue Star mom, though.
“I just want to make a difference. I know it’s hard for kids in the army, being away from their families, and we just want to help them,” Stinnett said. “I just really believe in what we do and I know it makes a difference every year.”
Blue Star Moms is a non-partisan, non-political, and non-discriminatory organization that was birthed from the patriotic spirit that embodied the World War II era. They have chapters all over the country, including multiple chapters that cover most of the Bay Area too. There’s the Vintage Valley Blue Star Moms chapter, which covers Solano, Napa and Yolo counties, and there’s also an East Bay Chapter that covers Contra Costa County, as well as chapters in Sacramento and beyond.
In the past year, the organization as a whole has sent out almost 75,000 care packages to military members all over the world. Additionally, they sent out almost 150,000 letters and held nearly 10,000 veterans events, amongst a multitude of other ways they support the military and their families.
“Having them write letters of thanks and knowing that it’s making a difference … you just want to do it that much more,” Stinnett said. “You just want to do it that much more next year.”
All-in-all, a quarter of a million members of the armed services have benefited from Blue Star Moms’ services somehow, and Vintage Valley has done more than their fair share.
“Last year, we sent out more than 400 care packages, and we donate items to homeless veterans throughout Solano County,” Stinnett said.
The Solano County chapter also holds regular visits to wounded warriors, firstly to deliver care packages, but also to give them someone to talk to, or to see other ways that they can help out. Sometimes, this even involves going to cemeteries and placing wreaths or flowers on the tombstones of the fallen.
Their members sometimes have multiple family members serving at one time—sometimes, they even have multiple children fighting in different wars at the same time. Situations like that are obviously going to be especially stressful, but gathering with folks who are going through similar struggles can often make a big difference, said Stinnett.
Stinnett’s own introduction to the group stemmed from the fact that her son-in-law is actively serving in the military. She learned about the organization through a family friend and started as a volunteer before holding two different board positions, and ultimately becoming the chapter president. She invites anyone interested to follow her example and come out to a Blue Star Moms meeting to learn more.
“Anybody that wants to join us—you can be an associate too,” Stinnett said. “If you care about the military and you want to make a difference, anyone can join us. You can just be a military supporter: come out to our meetings and help us out.”
Understandably, with the celebration of Veterans Day, November was a busy month for the Blue Star Moms. But with the Holiday Season on the horizon, December and January are sure to keep them busy. First off, they’re holding Christmas events and organizing to provide the children of soldiers with Christmas and holiday gifts from the organization, donated by folks around the community.
“We want to let the children know, ‘Thank You.’ They sacrifice a lot, and they may not realize it when they’re young, but when they get older, they might understand, ‘That was a big sacrifice,’” Stinnett said. “We want to give them a little something extra for Christmas, because the whole family is impacted, not just the individual serving.”
Next, not only have they got weekly meetings with wounded soldiers, which includes volunteering their time for meetings on Christmas Eve and on New Year’s Eve, they’ll be holding a gifts and crafts fair on December 6th at Orchard Avenue Baptist Church in Vacaville.
“They’re a great church,” Stinnett said of Orchard Avenue Baptist. “They donate their space to us all the time.”
They’ll also be laying wreaths at Sacramento Valley National Cemetery in Dixon on Dec. 13, as well as a wreath dedication at the State Capitol building on Dec. 8, and who knows what else they’ll plan at their monthly meeting! Also, starting in February, they’re doing their first major “pack” of the year, where they put together care packages to send out across the U.S. and to the far reaches of the world.
“We invite everybody in the community to come out,” Stinnett said. “We encourage people to write letters to a veteran, and to put your address on there; they may not have anybody to write to and it may be nice for them to write a letter back to you, and you may get something going! You may have an overseas pen pal.”
For anyone who wants to donate to Blue Star Moms, know that 99 percent or more of their donations go to helping others. If you want to donate, make your check payable to “Vintage Valley Blue Star Moms” and mail it to P.O. Box 1245, Vacaville, CA, 95696. All donations are tax deductible. If you want to donate care package items, not money, you can visit: http://www.solanobluestarmoms.org/#!needed-items/c1ojo for a list of needed items, or visit: http://www.solanobluestarmoms.org/#!donations/c1unp for ways to learn about donating online.
For anyone who wants to get involved with Blue Star Moms in Solano County, they meet on the 2nd Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m., at Orchard Avenue Baptist Church, located at 301 North Orchard Avenue in Vacaville. They can also visit: http://www.solanobluestarmoms.org/ or e-mail Stinnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nate Gartrell grew up in Benicia, studied journalism in college, and has written for a handful of media outlets since age 15. He aspires to visit all 30 Major League Baseball stadiums and to hit the trifecta at the horse track.