Why should a woman who is healthy and strong blubber like a baby when her man goes away? A’weepin and a’wailin how he done her wrong, that’s one thing you’ll never hear me say.”
— Laurey, in Oklahoma
The attitude these lyrics convey aptly describes the effort and organization Melissa Revel, the wife of U.S. Army Major Richard Revel of U.S. Army Central, and mother of three, demonstrates with her three volunteers in providing help and support for expecting military moms whose husbands are deployed overseas. The organization was initially named Operation Military Shower, but was then changed to Red White and Babies, Inc. in April 2013 to avoid confusion with a similarly named entity. Red White and Babies, Inc. has been designated a non-profit by the South Carolina Secretary of State and is currently pursuing a 501(c)(3) status. The organization is located at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter. Its conception began with Melissa, when she and her husband transferred with the army to Sumter from Fort Stewart, Ga.
Battling depression and loneliness, combined with the overwhelming stress of coping with a household to manage, a new environment, no established family, no network of friends and the responsibility of taking care of children without any help, Melissa, at her husband’s suggestion, decided to create a positive out of a negative and turn to help women in a similar state. Reaching out to other moms in similar situations through family support groups at Shaw and through her blog and Facebook page, Melissa began by sending out 200 to 300 emails to various corporations soliciting donations, which stressed quality and safety. She expected little response.
Within two weeks, her doorstep was flooded with deliveries from FedEx and UPS with an incredible array of donation items. “The amount and variety of donations sent were astonishing,” comments Captain Angela Buckley, a volunteer who serves as the secretary and event planner.
The showers are celebrations for women who need a boost through creating a ready and accessible support system. The program and efforts additionally benefit the deployed husbands who can concentrate on their mission without having to be concerned with how their loved ones are being cared for at home. The events are for both new and expecting moms from all branches of the military –– the Navy, Army, Air force and Marine Corps.
Melissa currently holds the events quarterly, however, the frequency of future events may be parried down to two a year for planning and logistical purposes. The showers, held at the Sumter Opera House and City Centre in downtown Sumter, are not open to the public and are not for active duty personnel. As their 501(c)(3) status has not yet been approved, monetary gifts are not accepted. Only donated items are allowed.
Items donated include: catered food, bathing supplies, diapers, mattresses, cribs, clothes, strollers, personal care items for the mother and father, restaurant coupons, yoga classes and prenatal care. Local churches provide homemade meals while high school ROTC units offer any assistance they can. Volunteer nanny services are sometimes provided and beauty salons donate hair and nail services for the attendees.
One unique effect occurs: in a gesture of paying it forward, many moms, who have attended previous showers, decide to volunteer to assist Melissa’s effort as well as help organize subsequent showers. Melissa states that the type of events her organization holds are the only ones in the country. She proudly mentions that her organization was recognized as A Point of Light by former President George H. W. Bush and has also been recognized, within the state, by Gov. Nikki Haley and Michel, her husband.
The organization, as a whole, has served more than 100 families and has received close to $50,000 in donations. Melissa estimates that her volunteers put in 60 hours of work preparing for each shower. Periodically, the events are peppered with attendance from celebrities like Shannon Miller, a 1996 Olympic gold medalist who is considered one of America’s most decorated gymnasts, and Rosie Pope, a celebrity pregnancy and maternity guru who, in addition to having her own maternity clothing line, starred on the reality show on Bravo called Pregnant In Heels.
Melissa’s most recent event, held this past November, had — as the guest of honor — a Sumter native who is a Marine Corp Pilot, Ted Fienning. Ted and his wife, Molly, operate a company which makes a product called Babiators which are aviator style sunglasses for babies.
Toward the end of the calendar year, donations from big corporations tend to taper off so smaller businesses, particularly locally owned retailers, step up and help provide products for the events. Melissa recalls the generosity of one of her recent vendors ––Bivona & Company –– which supplied items at two showers. At one event, the company sent a semi-tractor trailer truck and off loaded 24 Fisher Price cribs for the attendees.
“We have an amazing group of top donating companies,” Melissa says. Some of these include Lullaby Earth which provided all moms with a crib mattress; Just Hatched which has provided new baby bathing supplies; Nuna which has provided quality pack and plays, strollers and car seats; Wheat USA and Kicky Pants which provide baby clothes; Baby Plus which has provided prenatal education systems; Colic Calm which provided gift bags and calming non medicated tummy solution; and finally, Stephan Baby, a Christian company, which has provided a variety of quality gifts since day one.
Melissa, through her blog and Facebook, shares the generosity of the various businesses that donate. This effort helps advertise their products and promotes goodwill through word of mouth. The smaller, local businesses particularly appreciate this effort because they appreciate the presence of the military, the advertisement, the positive word of mouth and the resulting goodwill.
Looking to the future, Melissa indicates that she plans to expand the events to include law enforcement moms as soon as the organization’s fundraising branch is established and operating. Melissa plans to call it Hands On Heroes 911.
“It’s about meeting each other and staying in touch,” Melissa says. “It’s important to help people feel special at a time when they really need it … it’s a blessing in a time of darkness; it demonstrates the positive effect of what people can do when they reach out to one another.”