A new resale shop in downtown Killeen is providing emergency support to military service members and their families.
Operation Once in a Lifetime, a Dallas-based nonprofit, has been working in the Fort Hood area since its inception six years ago, but local manager John Valentine said the store will create better visibility and a physical address for military families to turn to for help.
“Now we are here for whatever soldiers and veterans need,” he said. “We opened here because there are 50,000 soldiers on Fort Hood and we want to help as many as we can.”
The Sgt. Leevon Ritter Support Your Troops Resale Center opened on Avenue C in early December and already Valentine has been able to provide help to soldiers.
Everything in the resale shop is marked with a price, but service members and honorably-discharged veterans in need can shop for free or pay what they can, Valentine said. Anything for a child under 2 years old is considered a need.
Rebecca Bass, an Army spouse, came in to the shop to get toys for her children through the Toys for Troops giveaway in December and came away with a washer and dryer for her family of seven, saving her from hanging school and Army uniforms on a clothing line outside.
“There’s just not words,” she said. “It was an extreme blessing.”
To say thanks, Bass, her husband, Spc. Chris Bass of the 504th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, and his mother, Pam Stevers, began volunteering at the store.
“We’ve been able to do what we didn’t think we could do, because of John and this place,” Chris Bass said. “This organization does everything. If it’s reasonable and they are able to do it, they’ll do it.”
Patrick Sowers, founder of the nonprofit, said this ability to give back is so much easier with the store open.
“The store not only allows us to do that, but also allows soldiers and veterans to come together to help support one another by allowing them to donate to a program, (or) a store that supports them,” he said via email. “We live in a world that is based off seeing is believing. This store will help hundreds of soldiers and veterans on a monthly basis and it is something that the public as well as our donors can see. When people see you doing good things, people want to be a part of it, whether donating or just volunteering.”
Over the years, Operation Once in a Lifetime has donated more than a half million dollars in linens and toiletries for soldiers returning to the barracks, Sowers said.
“For years, we would deliver these needed items to Fort Hood or on many occasions units have driven to Dallas to pick up these items. Now these items are stored at the store so if units need them they are available in minutes instead of days,” he said.
The nonprofit began with the goal of making wishes come true for military service members and their families, and then evolved over the years to providing support to active duty and veterans who served honorably. Unlike other organizations, there is no rank requirement. There also is a resale shop location in Plano.
“When I started this, it was just an idea, to create once in a lifetime experiences for our troops and their families, like taking them to NFL games (or) NBA Games,” Sowers said. “We quickly realized that every request, no matter how small, is a wish. If you do not have food for your kids what do you wish for? If you have no clothes for your kids, what do you wish for?”
More than 30,000 service members have been helped by the nonprofit.