PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Every year Thunderbird Charities, the group that brings you the Waste Management Phoenix Open, pumps millions of dollars back into our community with grants helping local charities. They just set up a new million-dollar COVID-19 emergency fund to go above and beyond in these unusual times.
Phoenix Army specialist Brent Morrison is on a work-at-home order right now with his wife and two toddlers where groceries and the basic essentials are adding up fast.
"My wife is furloughed right now so our income's been cut in half and the bills haven't stopped so we still have the car payments, the normal bills and utilities to go through. Some are like, 'Hey, yeah, we're waiting but it doesn't mean you don't have to pay this either.' So it just stacks up for a big so I don't like looking at those numbers," Morrison said.
Long before COVID-19 forced social distancing on all our extended families and friends, Morrison's family had no other option. He spent nine months in Kuwait when their first son was only a year old, missing a lot of those special milestones, getting only glimpses of his growth through FaceTime.
"I'm waking up and their day's ending or they're just kind of waking up so there's like a two or three-hour window on each side to kind of talk to them," Morrison said.
Marc Boehm is the executive director for Military Assistance Mission or MAM.
"There are a lot of struggling military member families out there," Boehm said. "Our hope is that we can provide them just a little bit of relief."
Like so many other nonprofits right now, MAM is seeing the need surge, while donations dwindle. They provide financial aid for military families, everything from help with rent, car or air conditioning repairs to food assistance, moral support, baby showers and holiday gifts for the whole family.
A handful of spring and summer fundraisers had to be canceled and then came a $100,000 grant from Thunderbird Charities.
"When we first got the call from Thunderbird Charities and they said, 'We want to award you the grant,' my knees literally buckled. It's a game-changer," Boehm said.
Tim Woods, the 2020 Waste Management Phoenix Open tournament chair, is also a Lt. Colonel for the Army National Guard.
"I'm a proud member of the Arizona Army National Guard, have been for over 20 years," Woods said.
"Some of the greatest among us are out there suffering, and it's really tugging at my heart. I know firsthand how hard these folks work and their dedication and their patriotism and it is deeply concerning when I picture these families that have sacrificed so much, experiencing hardship," Woods said.
He knows it's impossible to put a price tag on the service and sacrifice of these military families, many of whom qualify to be classified as working poor.
"It's really tough to swallow. When you think about the backbone of our military, it's enlisted soldiers and young officers who have volunteered last time I checked, to do above and beyond what others are willing or able to do," Woods said.
"They leave their families for an extended period of time. They live in austere environments. They go through a myriad of emotions through deployments and training," he said.
Wood's team has been helping with the recent guard missions flying medical supplies to the tribal reservations in the coronavirus pandemic. So when the Thunderbirds voted to approve another million dollars for COVID-19 relief on top of their record $14 million in community grants, he was thrilled to help MAM support more Arizona military families.
"We want to get that money back out the door as quickly as possible and in light of the current environment, it's even more pressing," Woods said.
Morrison's family got an e-gift card to Target to help float them a little through these uncertain times.
"The timing was amazing. It was great. That covers diapers, wipes, some food to just coast, for now, to get everything else taken care of as much as possible," Morrison said.
"It's a real difficult time and we're here to help. As many know, our military service members are very prideful people, and they don't tend to ask for a lot, but what we're asking all of you is, to call us, reach out and know we're here to help you, because you have our backs," Boehm said.
MAM used to only offer one-time grants. Now they're promising to help military families as needed, with extended pandemic assistance and financial aid, reassessing repeat requests to be able to support families who've supported all of us. They've even taken toys out of storage on tap for the upcoming annual Operation Holiday Open House and are distributing them to families to help occupy kids home from school for what's become a six-month summer, potentially even longer.
Thunderbird Charities will also be reassessing needs as the pandemic extends to see how else they might be able to help our local charities and families beyond the record grants that have already been given out.