Last year, U.S. Navy Chief Grant Khanbalinov, who grew up in the Grant City neighborhood of Staten Island, New York, helped raise money to send three junior sailors home for the holidays.
This year, amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Khanbalinov said it was more important than ever to raise funding — so he teamed up with a not-for-profit, Holidays For The Heroes, and raised enough money to allow 65 military members to return home to see their families this holiday season.
“This year during the coronavirus pandemic a lot of people aren’t traveling, and we are all working in a completely different environment than we have ever worked in, so it’s more important than ever for them to see their family for the holidays,” said Khanbalinov.
“A lot of [U.S. Military members’] spouses lost jobs during the coronavirus pandemic, so money is tight for everyone. We thought this was the perfect opportunity to help them out,” he added.
Many times, active members of the U.S. Military can’t see their loved ones for the holidays because the cost of an airplane ticket is too expensive.
“It was really an accident how we got started,” said Ed Roshitsh, who is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and founder of Holidays For The Heroes. “Around Thanksgiving last year I realized I hadn’t given any money to military charities, which is something I had done forever. So I put up a post saying, ‘If you know anyone in active military who would like to get home for the holidays and can’t afford it, send it my way.'”
He said so far $55,000 was raised thorough Holidays For The Heroes this year.
“We are shooting to raise enough money to send 100 active military home this year,” said Roshitsh. “It’s been really special to see how many people we’ve been able to help. And truly it’s been special to see the generosity of people through some crazy times.”
He estimated he needs at least another $20,000 to fulfill his goal of sending home 100 active duty military members for the holidays.
Khanbalinov, who is stationed in Washington D.C., also spread the word via social media that the organization was seeing military members who needed help paying for a trip home during the holidays.
But it wasn’t as simple as providing money for airplane tickets.
“We had one situation where we had a husband in the U.S. Army and a wife in the U.S. Marines and we were able to connect them. Then there was a situation where there were two sailors in the U.S. Navy who couldn’t go home because of COVID and we are flying their children out to them,” said Khanbalinov.
And Khanbalinov is no stranger to using social media to help fellow military. He has been lauded for his prior social media efforts to help sailors, veterans and Navy brass who are depressed, suicidal or simply in need of someone to talk to.
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