Ballgowns and Baby Bottles – Supporting Our Troops

I have volunteered for years helping veterans; from delivering Meals on Wheels for World War II vets to providing business counsel for servicemen about to retire. However, I never looked deeply into the lives of the Marines who I meet on the base.  I just assumed that our federal government infrastructure took care of them fully.

It was shocking to learn that an E5 sergeant with a wife has such a low level of income that they qualify for food stamps.  The average age for an active enlisted Marine is about 19 1/2 yrs old.  These young men and women who are serving our country and risking their lives are younger than my brother who is a junior in college.  Many of these young families are from small, rural communities and they are pulled up and plopped down on a military base in the middle of nowhere or in this case, Southern California.  Imagine being 19 years old, married, pregnant while your husband is stationed half a world away.  With no family support nearby, these young girls have to learn finance and parenting on their own.

In 2006, a retired Marine in Newport Beach, CA wanted to do something to help those military families stationed here, so he approached the various city councils in the area.   He wanted to get the people living in Orange County to help support the troops who were stationed at nearby Camp Pendleton.  The organization that facilitates this is America Supporting Americans and was started in 1967 by a young woman, Linda Patterson, to help raise the morals of troops in Vietnam.  The mission of the organization is to build connections between the soldiers who serve our country and the citizens who they serve.  It allows us to know the soldiers on the individual basis and it helps our soldiers to know that someone cares and appreciate what they do.

As a result, several cities in Orange County have now adopted Marine battalions from Camp Pendleton.  Each city handles their philanthropic efforts differently.   If you would like to support our troops, please check with your cities or the nearest military base to find volunteer opportunities and get involved.   I do have to warn you that it does take effort to track down the information.  Cities do post their involvement on their websites but I could only find the links with the help of the actual city employees to direct me.  The best way is still via human contact so call your city office directly.

I want to thank the City of Mission Viejo, CA for helping me to understand their efforts in supporting the Headquarters Battalion, First Marine Division, United States Marine Corps, Camp Pendleton.   There are over a thousand enlisted Marines in the battalion and the support is given to enlisted men with the ranks of Sergeant E5 and below.   The adoption program by the city is a wonderful example of seamless collaboration between the city, the Corps, local schools, local companies, and volunteers.  Mission Viejo provides supports in the form of staff time, advertising support, monetary donation and postage for care packages to the Marines.   The city and the city employees have always gone above and beyond to provide any help they can.

Between the volunteer group and the city of Mission Viejo, there are so many activities they put on to raise money to help the Marines that I can’t even begin to list them.  A list of upcoming events and flyers for special fundraisers is here.   However, there are two events that Mission Viejo does need help with, the upcoming baby shower for over 40 pregnant wives and the Ballgowns for the Marine Ball.

The annual Marine Ball is one of those events that are “mandatory”.  You are not required to go but for your career, it is wise to attend.  Yes, politics in the workplace exist even in the military.  The cost of the Ball this year is $100/couple just for tickets.   This does not include the cost of dressing for the spouses or childcare for the evening.   The cost of an evening like that is not something that anyone can drop without planning for it.   These Marines are on a fixed income and their wives cannot afford to buy evening gowns for one night.

We are asking for donations of ballgowns or prom dresses that you, your wife, or daughter no longer use and is just hanging in the closet gathering dust.  It does not matter what the sizes are.  Any wraps, shawls or evening purses would also be welcomed.   Mission Viejo is collecting the gowns until August 31st.   One of the department at Saddleback College has offered to custom fit the dresses for the Marine wives.  The dresses can be dropped off directly with David Cendejas at the city office (200 Civic Center, Mission Viejo, CA 92691) or you can call (949) 470-3061 to arrange for a volunteer to pick it up from your house.

For the baby showers, the city still needs the following types of donations:   diapers, shampoo, lotion, oil, wipes, new baby clothing, i.e., sleepers, t shirts, powder, body wash bubble bath, baby towels, washcloths, diaper cream and items for newborns.  It does not matter if the clothes are gently used.    If you are crafty and have lots of useless baskets cluttering up your garage like I do, that would also help.

Whether you can help now or later, please reach out and just touch the lives of one of our service men and women in any way you can, even if it just a letter or a box of handy wipes and chocolates.   You will find that in doing so, your life will be changed and your horizon will be expanded.  If you would like more information about other organizations that support our troops, please feel free to email me at

For Orange County, CA residents, these are other cities who have formal adoption programs and the troops that they support.

  • Newport Beach –  1st Battalion, 1st Marines
  • Huntington Beach – 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines
  • Laguna Niguel – 1st Battalion, 4th Marines
  • Dana Point- 5th Marine Regiment
  • Rancho Santa Margarita – 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines
  • San Clemente – 2nd Battalion4th Marines
  • San Juan Capistrano – 1st Battalion, 11th Marines
  • Irvine – 2nd Battalion, 11th Marines
  • Westminster – 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion

Many thanks to David Cendejas, Bruce Hunt, Elaine Baker, and Gayle Wood for all your time and help in walking me through the details of the City of Mission Viejo Marine Adoption Program.

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One comment

  1. I have a knot in the pit of my stomach. I remember those times. I once heard a statistic something like 65% of our military are low income. That to me is insane – It was crazy going through it (my husband served 22 years in the US Navy), and it’s eve crazier to think that those number might just be growing.

    Thank you for all the wonderful information. The ball Gowns one is right up my alley!

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