Small Store Plays Huge Role in Helping Veterans
A storefront sign in the Parker Road strip center reads “Support Your Troops Resale.” That doesn’t even begin to tell the story of what started behind those doors.
The shop is a branch of Operation Once in a Lifetime, a nonprofit organization that has helped more than 700,000 veterans and active duty servicemen and women over the past decade.
At the Plano store, people can donate gently used clothing, furniture and appliances that may be of use to others. Money raised from sales to the public pays for rent, expenses and veteran programs. Military-affiliated people who have a need can get certain items free of charge. For example, a formerly homeless veteran gets an apartment. There’s a good chance he still needs furniture and other house necessities. The store will make sure he has enough to make his new place feel like home.
Operation Once in a Lifetime works closely with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Through a program called HUDVASH, the VA partners with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to find permanent housing for homeless veterans. Oftentimes the VA then refers them to the Support Your Troops Resale store so they can find furniture and other home items.
“What makes us unique is that we open our doors to all branches of service and all veterans,” founder Sgt. Pat Sowers said.
How It All Started
Nine years ago, Pat was enjoying a successful post-military career in North Texas. He had moved to the area from his last duty station in Fort Hood because his wife found a good job in Dallas. Pat soon also landed a job that paid well and included perks like frequent suite tickets to Dallas Mavericks and Stars games.
He knew he was lucky to get this type of VIP treatment and wanted other veterans to experience the same thing. When he inquired at the sales department for the Dallas Stars about how vets could get complimentary tickets, he was told that the team donated them to 513(c)3 charities.
So he decided to start one, with a little help from Google.
While it is Plano-based, Operation Once in a Lifetime’s reach stretches across the globe. Many organizations helping veterans focus on a single issue that is important to them. One of the things that makes Operation Once in a Lifetime so unique is the fact that it has no limits on who it will help. At the very least, every single person who makes a request gets a phone call returned.
“Believe it or not, sometime people just need someone to talk to,” Pat said.
Supporting Veterans and Their Families
In early October, the organization got word that a Korean War veteran in Oklahoma was sleeping in his own garage. Disabilities left him unable to go upstairs to his bedroom. Since there was no room for a bed anywhere else in the home, he’d begun sleeping in the non-climate controlled garage. The man had saved up half of what he needed to purchase a stairlift. Operation Once in a Lifetime was able to donate the balance, and he is now able to go upstairs whenever he wants.
Also in October, the nonprofit was alerted to the plight of a 19-year-old Frisco woman whose father was killed in Iraq when she was just five years old. She’d been working hard and picking up shifts at her job whenever possible. However, getting to work was a challenge since she did not have a car. She relied on rides from friends and coworkers. A family friend alerted Operation Once in a Lifetime, and they gifted her with a dependable vehicle. She was stunned and grateful.
Some have compared the nonprofit to the Make a Wish Foundation. And while it does provide grand deeds like fly veterans to Arlington National Cemetery or get them on the field at a Dallas Cowboys game, its work often involves much more mundane assistance like food, furniture and job placement.
A shy young man showed up at the store a few months ago. He had served in Iraq but now found himself homeless. All of his family had either died or was incarcerated. He came to the store in search of clothes. After hearing his story Pat offered him a part-time job. It turned out he could barely see, so the organization got eye glasses for him. The man had a good heart but had never been taught fundamental career skills like searching for a job or making a resumé. With the help of the foundation, he is now on the path to a brighter future.
The nonprofit also does more than just need-based assistance. It also helps get veterans involved in helping their community.
“Not all veterans need help. We aren’t all broken,” Pat said. “Sometimes veterans miss making a difference and miss serving.”
Earlier this year the organization decided to add some positivity to a tense summer. Operation Once in a Lifetime raised $3,000 on Facebook to buy meals from a locally owned restaurant that had been hurt by the pandemic. They fed all of the firefighters in Downtown Dallas.
They later put together a similar event to feed 480 National Guard personnel working with the pandemic response in Plano.
Pat is not keen on personal attention. He is quick to share credit with the many other veterans who work to keep Operation Once in a Lifetime running. He’s just happy to do his part. Most importantly, he hopes the work they do will shine a light on the issues facing many current and former military personnel. He hopes it will motivate more people to help, whether through his organization or other means.
“We’re not trying to compete with anybody. We’re just trying to make a difference,” he said.
See the nonprofit organization’s current needs here.Operation Once in a Lifetime >
Support Your Troops Resale
223 W Parker Rd.
Plano, TX 75023