Vineyard Vines helps Soldier Socks expand

When it comes to supporting our troops, it’s often the little things that get overlooked — those little items that we take for granted at home, like having a clean pair of socks to wear.

That’s always been the thinking behind Soldier Socks, the Stamford-based charity that has sent more than 50,000 pounds, which equals 25 tons, of socks, baby wipes and other basic necessities to American soldiers stationed overseas. Having access to simple items like that can often be difficult for a soldier, and it can make a world of difference when it comes to comfort. And now Soldier Socks is expanding its reach and coming to Greenwich to do it, launching the new Soldier Socks Veterans Grant Foundation in town.

On June 30, Christopher Meek, his family and some eager volunteers set up outside Vineyard Vines on Greenwich Avenue to raise money for troops returning home to help ease their transition into civilian life through opportunities for jobs. The stand outside the store is poised to return on July 21, with future appearances in town throughout the summer. People passing by were asked to donate $2 for the organization and received a Soldier Socks red, white and blue bracelet when they gave.

Mr. Meek, who was a candidate for Congress earlier this year before ending his campaign shortly after the state Republican convention, has been working on Soldier Socks since 2009. In fact, July is its three-year anniversary of trying to support troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. And now that the soldiers from Iraq are coming home and a similar withdrawal is set for Afghanistan, Mr. Meek wants to make sure the help doesn’t end.

“What you hear right now is that there are a lot of veterans coming home and having a difficult time finding jobs,” Mr. Meek said. “That’s a problem a lot of people have, but it’s especially challenging for veterans. They’re having a really difficult time of it, and this is a natural progression for us as a not-for-profit. The money we’re raising will be used to focus on job training and job placement for our veterans and also making sure there is grant money available for veterans who want to go to college.”

The G.I. Bill covers the majority of the costs of veterans who want to continue their education when they get home, but Mr. Meek said he wants to help fill the gap that exists so soldiers who qualify can attend top-flight colleges and universities.

“My feeling is that if a soldier can get into Yale or Harvard they should be able to go to Yale or Harvard,” Mr. Meek said. “We’re looking to fill that cushion.”

Mr. Meek said it’s a real problem for soldiers when they return home being expertly trained to fight a war but not having the necessary training to be able to get a civilian job as others can.

“To the credit of a lot of businesses and a lot of industries, they are realizing that,” Mr. Meek said. “They are already forming specific groups within their industries and companies to have apprenticeship programs or hiring programs for veterans. They are trying to make it easier. We’re trying to do our part, too, to let employers see that these veterans don’t just have skills for the battlefield.”

The foundation has lofty goals. Each $2 donation earns the donor the bracelet, and Mr. Meek said he wants to sell a million of them, with all the proceeds going to veteran assistance efforts. This is not something that has been long in the making. Mr. Meek said the idea was suggested to him a little less than a month ago, and the organization was able to hit the ground running with the full support of the Soldier Socks board.

“We were talking about what we would do next, and one of our board members had the great idea to simply sell the wristbands as a fund-raiser,” Mr. Meek said. “It perfectly matched with our idea to do more to help with college costs and job training and placement.”

This is intended to be a national campaign, and Mr. Meek already has the assistance of noted Z-100 morning DJ Elvis Duran, who not only has a big New York City following but is syndicated in 35 other markets. Mr. Meek and others involved with Soldier Socks are expected to make an appearance on the show this summer. Thanks to that exposure, there have been Soldier Socks drives in Massachusetts and Illinois and Miami and all the way across the country to California, and Mr. Meek is hoping for more here.

“It’s a lot easier to ship a wristband than it is to ship socks,” Mr. Meek said.

Mr. Meek got some help for the foundation’s Greenwich launch very close to home. His daughters, 9-year-old Lexie and 6-year-old Cayla, manned the stand outside Vineyard Vines. But it wasn’t just his immediate family lending a hand. Veterans themselves have volunteered to help, and others will be keeping an eye on things when Soldier Socks returns to Vineyard Vines on July 21.

The stand was set up with the full cooperation of the store. Vineyard Vines owners and Greenwich residents Ian and Shep Murray have been past sponsors for Soldier Socks and even made ties as a past fund-raiser. Last month the store ran a sale from which part of the proceeds went to supporting the troops, and Mr. Meek said the owners were eager to get involved and volunteer the front of their store.

“They’ve been phenomenal supporters,” Mr. Meek added. “I can’t thank them or the store enough.”

“We feel honored to work with and support Chris Meek and his foundation, Soldier Socks,” Shep Murray, the store’s CEO, told the Post. “Chris and his team work tirelessly to provide lacking essentials to our troops in need.”

More information is available online at soldiersocks.com, where people who want to help can find out how.

 

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