By MC1 Michael Wiss
NPASE Detachment SE

"Making a difference for Sailors, Marines and their families" was the underlining message as the Naval Station Mayport Navy Marine Corps Relief Society (NMCRS) held their organization meeting March 4 with the Active-Duty Fund Drive set to kick off March 15.

The NMCRS is a nonprofit organization that offers interest-free loans and grants for emergencies and tuition assistance.  According to Naval Station Mayport NMCRS Director retired Navy Capt. Bill Kennedy the organization is here to help those in need.

"It is vital that families know that there is an organization to help them if they have a financial crisis," he said.  "All the money we receive is donations from active duty personnel which go back to any family or Sailor who needs assistance.  It is shipmates helping shipmates."

Another of the major services the NMCRS provides is education, learning to live within your financial household.   Everyone who comes for assistance must fill out a budget.  According to Kennedy, education is the key to assuming financial responsibility.

"We provide financial aid, but the big part is to provide financial education," he said.  "Our professional volunteer case workers teach Sailors and their families to understand their leave and Earnings statement, and live within their means. We take a look at what money is coming in and what's is going out and provide the assistance needed to balance a budget."

The need for the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society was recognized long before it was organized. Our newly formed nation couldn't afford to provide a benefits package for its armed forces. There were no medical benefits for service families, no retirement annuities or survivors' benefits for families of deceased personnel. Sailors and Marines would "pass the hat" to collect funds to help their shipmate's widows and orphans.

In 1904, several Naval officers, wives of Naval officers, and civilian friends saw the need for more formal and organized assistance. The Society was incorporated on January 23 of that year. Initial funding came from the proceeds of the 1903 Army-Navy Football Game held at Franklin Field in Philadelphia.. In its first year, the Society gave $9,500 to widows and families of enlisted men.  The society has evolved over the years to cover many other financial crisis criteria than just helping pay for vehicle repairs or emergency plane tickets.

NMCRS loans and grants can be used for

â¢Basic living expenses (food and lodging)

â¢Emergency transportation expenses

â¢Personal expenses when military pay is delayed

â¢Family funeral expenses

â¢Medical/dental expenses (example: co-pays)

In 2013 Naval Station Mayport ships and commands raised over $215,000 for NMCRS.  The society helped out over 1,500 families with over $800,000 in grant money.  Much of this money was given out through Quick Assist Loans (QAL). 

Payday lenders often use slogans such as, "Got a job? Get a loan" to lure people tight on cash with promises of money, no questions asked. But people who use these services usually end up in what's commonly referred to as a debt trap. And despite each military service having agencies to financially help service members, there was a time when many of those caught in the debt trap were active-duty members. As a way of preventing service members from being caught in the payday loan debt trap, the NMCRS launched the Quick Assist Loan program for active-duty members. With the relief society's QAL program, the service member can forgo the budget process and select repayment terms of three to 10 months. While the maximum amount that could be taken out was $300 when it first started, that amount increased to $500 this past February.

Although the society would like all to donate money to the fund drive, the goal is for 100 percent contact to allow personnel the opportunity to help out Sailors and Marines and their families in need.

"When Sailors and Marines fall on hard times, Society volunteers are there to help them get back on their feet, and you make that happen," said NMCRS President and Chief Executive Officer Admiral United States Navy (Ret.) Steve Abbot.