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09 Sep 2016

Community Voices: Soldiers Organized Services (SOS) Offers Rides and Other Needed Assistance to Members of the Military, Veterans

Written by  John DiViggiano
Erica Stone, of SOS, poses with Bob Schneider, of Desert Adventures, and the donated van. Erica Stone, of SOS, poses with Bob Schneider, of Desert Adventures, and the donated van.

Soldiers Organized Services, known to locals as SOS, has provided free airport transportation for more than 100,000 of America’s heroes since 2007—saving active-duty military personnel, as well as their loved ones, in excess of $15 million.

The mission is funded through the generous donations of corporations, philanthropic organizations and patriotic individuals from all over the Coachella Valley.

Explosive growth has created new challenges for this Palm Desert nonprofit—and its new Veterans Communications Center is playing a key role in the expansion.

SOS plans to offer free transportation for area veterans to the Veterans Affairs Hospital at Loma Linda, and help with that mission came from Desert Adventures, operators of the popular Red Jeep Tours, which was about to retire a 1994 Dodge Ram minivan. It had some good years left, so with the help of local businesses and donors, it has been restored and donated to SOS.

“The van needed repair, and I was trying to decide whether to fix it or junk it when I saw a news report about SOS,” says Bob Schneider, of Desert Adventures. “I have always liked what that organization did for our Marines from the Twentynine Palms Marine Base. So I approached my mechanic and several local organizations to come on board for the donation.”

Schneider approached Erica Stone, founding director of SOS, about the donation, and she was thrilled with the idea. “It needed about $4,000 in repairs to make it reliable enough for freeway travel, so with the help of the Palm Springs Hospitality Association, The Rotary Club of Palm Springs, and Palms to Pines Automotive, the van is now in tip-top shape.

“Bob was tireless in seeking out collaboration for this project, and thanks to his efforts, and the time, money and expertise from the other benefactors, we can now safely transport our valley veterans to important appointments.”

All of SOS’ services—including free transportation, the Resale Boutique, and the Veterans Communications Center—are offered by local volunteers. These men and women, some retired and some still working, offer their time and talents to make life easier for our brave men and women of the United States Marine Corps, and now all valley veterans, through the efforts of the new Veterans Communications Center, and the Resale Boutique.

The SOS Resale Boutique, 77851 Las Montanas Road in Palm Desert, not only offers a wide range of gently used clothing; it also offers an abundance of household items, including appliances and furniture. All proceeds from the sale of these items go to support the mission of SOS to provide active-duty military personnel transportation to and from the Palm Springs and Ontario international airports. Now, with so many elderly veterans living longer, and needing more assistance, the boutique has found a new mission. Just recently, with recommendations from the Veterans Communication Center staff, SOS was able to furnish an entire apartment for a veteran in need—from bedroom furniture to living room furniture, with everything in between. Needless to say, that proud veteran was shown how much his fellow countrymen and women value his service.

The Veterans Communication Center is expanding its offerings. In addition to free transportation to the VA Hospital, the center will continue to be a clearinghouse of information regarding benefits—federal, state and local, for all honorably discharged service men and women. Adult-education classes will also be held at the center, on topics such as remedial banking, computer literacy training and household budgeting. Erica Stone talked about an elderly veteran, widowed after more than 50 years of marriage, who was unable to write a simple bank check, let alone balance a checkbook. His beloved wife handled all of their monetary affairs. With the help of volunteers at the center, that man can now write his own checks and be sure his bills are paid on time.

These are just a few examples of the community outreach SOS provides to a segment of the population that is too often overlooked: Men and women who have served their country with honor and bravery, perhaps decades ago, are somehow forgotten.

“They’re easy to spot,” Stone says. “Go to any parade, and watch to see who stands up and salutes the flag, sometimes out of a wheelchair, while the youngsters simply ignore it. They have paid their dues, and did their duty, and never forgot why. For that reason alone, we owe them our deepest gratitude.

As with most charitable organizations, SOS and its subsidiaries are in constant need of volunteers to help fulfill its many missions. Not only does SOS need a steady army of daily drivers; the organization is also looking for people to do office work, serve as sales and stocking clerks for the boutique, reach out to the community, assist with public relations and teach the adult-education classes.

For volunteer information, or to donate, visit www.sosride.org, or call 760-200-2345.

John DiViggiano is a volunteer driver and offers public-relations support for SOS.

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