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STEP provides financial help to San Diego military families in crisis



For more than a decade, Support the Enlisted Project (STEP) has supported any military family in financial crisis.

“I relate to them because these are my people – this is who I am,” said Tony Teravainen, CEO and Co-Founder of STEP. “I understand what my mom went through as a 20-year-old military spouse with two kids and a dad that just got shipped back to Southwest Asia for the second time.”

STEP has helped thousands of military families keep a roof over their head and food on their plate.

“The families that we’re serving are in extremely complex situations,” said Teravainen. “They’re dire.”

In those situations, STEP has an Emergency Financial Assistance program.

It connects anyone with a social worker who’s certified in financial counseling, and also involves emergency funding in severe cases.

“Our ultimate goal is to make this their last crisis,” said Teravainen, noting that the program has a 90% success rate. “Only 3% have come back needing more money.”

Tracy Owens, STEP’s program manager, says that STEP helps families in many other ways.

“The cost of living is very high here in San Diego, and military pay doesn’t go quite as far as it does in other parts of the world,” said Owens.

Since STEP started 11 years ago, they have given nearly $2.5 million in emergency grants to more than 7,400 families, stopped about 600 evictions and distributed over 450,000 diapers.

“Those resources will help them offset the cost of things so that they don’t have to make a decision about paying a light bill or putting diapers on their baby,” said Owens.

Critical supplies are given out at regular distribution drives, such as one at Camp Pendleton in October.

Riley Johnson, who lives on base while her husband serves in the Navy, says these drives are important because she doesn’t usually qualify for government aid.

“It’s scary with two kids to have to think about food options,” said Johnson. “Just any relief has been extremely helpful.”

This summer, SDG&E gave STEP their largest grant ever — $400,000.

That’s enough to help 600 families with emergency funding.

“It’s hard to describe how immediate this is,” said Teravainen.

As Thanksgiving approaches, military families are reaching out to STEP for help.

“How am I going to be able to take care of my family and have food on the table during this time when we’re already challenged financially?” said Owens.

That’s where the charity steps in with their holiday food drives.

“25% of the families said if they didn’t this from us, they wouldn’t have a Thanksgiving meal,” said Teravainen.

For more on how to support STEP, go to www.teamstepusa.org. They accept monetary donations, item drop-offs, and more.

One of their events is “Sharing the Joy,” where military families submit wish-lists for holiday gifts that are fulfilled by the community.

Applications are still open to get help from their next Thanksgiving distribution drive, which takes place November 13. But applications must meet the following eligibility requirements:

E1-E6 active-duty and recently transitioned Veteran families (within 18 months of separation). Priority will be given to first time applications.


Source: CBS 8

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