Relief Society offers a helping hand to sailors, Marines in need

U.S. Navy Fleet Force Master Chief Rick O'Rawe speaks to sailors with Surgical Charlie Company, 2nd Medical Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, Camp Lejeune, N.C., Aug. 19, 2019. For the Navy and the Corps, March and April is “by us, for us,” time, O’Rawe says – that is, time for the active duty fund drive for the Navy and Marine Corps Relief Society.


By DAVE RESS | The Daily Press (Tribune News Service) | Published: April 7, 2021

(Tribune News Service) — This time of year, when Fleet Master Chief Rick O’Rawe gives his regular Wednesday briefing to the admirals of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, he talks about something sailors and Marines do to help their ship- and squad-mates.

For the Navy and the Corps, March and April is “by us, for us,” time, O’Rawe says — that is, time for the active-duty fund drive for the Navy and Marine Corps Relief Society.

The 117-year-old society is there when sailors and Marines need emergency help — the kind of help, for instance, that a sailor at sea or a Marine deployed in Afghanistan might need when word comes from back home about an ill family member or a surprise bill.

O’Rawe, a 28-year veteran, knows about jams like that – he wishes he’d known more about the Relief Society when he was a young sailor.

“The society helped lots of my sailors, with things like getting home for a funeral — they can get tickets at a real discount,” he said. “I’d tell my sailors, I’m interested in your problems, I’ve had your problems. It is OK to have problems. What’s not OK is if you ignore your problems, if you let them build and build until you just can’t take it anymore.”

Last year, the Relief Society helped more than 28,000 sailors and Marines, active duty and retired, and their families.

It made interest-free loans or grants to help with basic living expenses such as food, lodging, utilities and setting up a household totaling $12.5 million.

It stepped in the help with $5.8 million of bills for car repairs, insurance, car payments and rentals.

Interest-free loans for these purposes for up to $500 can be arranged in just 15 minutes.

Funds disbursed for family emergencies, funeral expenses and medical or dental bills totaled $2.9 million, transportation because of a family member’s illness accounted for another $1 million,

The Relief Society stepped in with $1.7 million in assistance for education – a program that is expanding this year — and to fill in gaps with pay or entitlement shortfalls.

Its visiting nurses made 11,832 visits, to help with prenatal and post-partum concerns as well as with care for older children, adults and the elderly.

The society introduced a $50 gift card for families participating in its Budget for Baby program and offered one-on-one budgeting assistance to more than 3,000 people.

It runs thrift shops to offer affordable uniforms, clothing and household items.

Looking ahead, the society’s Norfolk director, Kathy Nelson, is preparing for even more demand for its services in the months ahead, particularly as the travel restrictions that made it hard for sailors and Marines to head home for family emergencies.

The society relies on volunteers, as well as donations, and as people feel more comfortable venturing out, she said she hopes military spouses, retirees and other Hampton Roads residents will consider lending a hand to its efforts.

“This is something we do for our own,” she said. “I wish I’d known more about how the relief society helps when I was a commander.”

Want to help? Need a hand?

Active duty sailors and Marines can contribute with a payroll deduction, or make an online donation at https://support.nmcrs.org/a/ADFD or by giving a check or money order to the Active Duty Fund Drive representative at their station. Others can donate at https://support.nmcrs.org/a/homepage

If sailors, Marines, their families or retirees need help, it is available at 757-322-1171 (Norfolk); 757-462-1596 (Little Creek); 757-433-3383 (Oceana) or 757-953-5956 (Portsmouth).

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