Photo courtesy of Neal Biron
A $150 donation to Braintree’s Veteran Services may not seem like much, but for local Neal Biron, the donation is just the beginning.
The donation stems off the first fund-raising event by The Silver Helmet, a grass-roots veterans organization that seeks to donate 100 percent of the proceeds received to veterans and their families.
“I’m a veteran myself, and it’s been something I’ve been thinking about for a long time,” said Biron, the president and CEO of the organization.
A Vietnam-era veteran who served in the Navy from 1968-1972, Biron said he has seen a number of families struggle as their loved ones head off to training or to war, and has heard the stories of veterans who return home only to continually struggle with finances.
Biron said he is seeking to partner with existing channels, namely local and state veterans service programs, to distribute any funding raised.
“The biggest issue is that when I get the money, it has to go to people who know and understand where the needs are,” Biron said. “They vary from community to community. ... Each community has different types of organizations that would be aware of the needs.”
Plans currently call for funding raised to be given to the community in which it was raised. Website proceeds will go to either local or state groups.
The first effort began in June with the sale of Silver Helmet cards for $1 in Braintree’s Wood Road Deli.
“[The deli owner’s] comment to me was basically not to expect much, as typically when he does these things he raises maybe as much as $50. So I gave him 50 cards,” Biron said. “Within a couple of weeks, he needed 50 more.”
By the end of the campaign, people had purchased 150 cards, and the wall was papered with tiny “Silver Helmet” cards each bearing the name of a donor.
Biron has since given the $150 check to Braintree’s Department of Veteran Services, which will put the money toward unexpected expenses.
“Massachusetts has a good financial support system for low-income and out-of-work veterans and I administer that for the town of Braintree,” said Richard Walsh, Braintree’s veterans agent. “But always something comes up -- they have a moving expense not covered or may need their first month's rent or security deposit for electric or gas bill. If I can’t get it through other means, I use this fund to help them out. I also use it around holidays to buy supermarket gift cards for low-income veterans.”
Walsh said that the organization only rarely gets donations, and that it was nice to have an organization committed to continually helping the cause.
“There are a lot of small reasons it’s needed,” Walsh said.
Spending needs to be approved through several Braintree officials before money is handed out of the account, Walsh said, adding an extra layer of oversight on donated money.
Alongside the issue of oversight, the legitimacy of organizations seeking donations for veterans is an important one, Walsh said.
“Unfortunately, there are a lot of schemes; people say they are collecting money for veterans, and overhead usually eat up 80 percent of the money. But these guys are pretty straightforward, and their desire is to reach veterans,” Walsh said
With so many devious nonprofits around, Biron said part of the goal of his new organization is to restore faith in veteran help groups.
“There are some things out there that are doing what they say they are doing and are trying to as closely as they can,” Biron said.
The fund-raising mission has only just started. Biron hopes to partner with the 99 Restaurant to dine for a cause, though the details have yet to be worked out. The organization also recently launched a website and is working on submitting paperwork to be a 501c3 nonprofit.
Biron also hopes to start fund-raising missions in several towns, with the money raised in each town going to the local veterans services agencies. Long-term, he hopes to spread the campaign nationally.
“I think in 2014 I should be able to do $10,000-$15,000. I don’t think that’s out of the realm of possibility,” Biron said. “If I could do that, by the next year I could kick that up and hopefully look for $20,000-$30,000. I don’t know. It depends how broad the scope goes.”
Biron already has ideas of other fund-raising opportunities, such as a motorcycle ride and obtaining corporate sponsorships.
In the immediate future, the hope is to raise an awareness of the campaign and let people know that there is an outlet if they want to help.
“That’s what I want to be able to do, to be something that helps on the front line,” Biron said.
For more information about the group, visit website.