STAMFORD, Conn. -- Christopher Meek, a father of three from Stamford and a vice president of a New York City firm, finds his passion in doing volunteer work for Soldier Sock, a nonprofit he founded.
Meek lives in Stamford with Christine, his wife of 14 years, and their three children, who are 11, 8 and 2 years old. He is a vice president with State Street Global Advisors in New York City. He is also the co-founder and chairman of this 501(c)(3), which helps soldiers serving in the military as well as retired veterans.
Meek learned from his friend Chris Munger that troops were living in “jeeps and foxholes,” instead of a military base. He and his friend Scott Duffy, who lived in Westport at that time, got together to send care packages with useful items to make life a little better for them. The soldiers requested baby wipes and tube socks.
Meek and Duffy used to work together at the World Trade Center in New York City and were there on the day of the Sept. 11 terror attacks. Grateful for many reasons, they wanted “a way to give back,” Meek said. So, in July 2009, Meek and Duffy went to Hope Street Pharmacy for the wipes and the former New Balance Shoe Store on High Ridge Road for the socks. Both places matched donations dollar to dollar.
In the fall of 2009, around Veterans Day, Meek did a drive with his children at their elementary school. After that, Maria Lovello, who is on now the Board of Directors and is operational manager for Soldier Socks, was listening to Elvis Duran on his morning show talk about how they wanted to help soldiers.
Lovello told Meek about it and he contacted the show. They called him back and said they wanted to “join forces” with them and took them nationally overnight. The word spread and they were bombarded with emails and phone calls of people wanting to help. Since July 2009, they have sent over 55,000 pounds to 53 units in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Soldier Socks, which is an all volunteer organization, is made up of 10 members of the Board of Directors. Their only overhead is the website, storage and postage. Family and friends have helped with packing parties, and Vineyard Vines in Greenwich set up donation tables in its stores and even created specific ties to sell.
Thanks to the enormous response nationwide, Soldier Socks now helps retired soldiers as well. They have set up the Veterans Education Grant Foundation, which gives partial scholarships to the Maxwell School of Citizenship at Syracuse University, Meek’s alma mater, the Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University and a general scholarship for those who would like to attend a trade school or the college of their choice.
Last May, Meek took Soldier Socks a step even further. He met with the CTO of Ekso Bionics, which is based in California. This company, originally Berkley Bionics, engineers robotic exoskeletons that enable those with physical limitations to become mobile when wearing the device. It is used as a rehabilitation device. Soldier Socks partnered with them and has committed to funding 10 suits, which cost from $110,000 to $140,000 each.
In December 2013, the first suit donated through Soldier Socks was given to Dan Rose, a retired U.S. sergeant. He became completely paralyzed in 2011 from the chest down when his truck hit 1,000 pounds of explosives in southern Afghanistan.
Meek decided that because this suit cannot be worn all the time and because it is used for rehab purposes, it would benefit more people if the suits were donated to VA hospitals. Thanks to a recent interview Meek did on the Fox News Network, they raised $125,000 from that television spot alone, to cover the cost of one suit, which will be donated to the Boston VA Hospital on April 30.
Some companies that have helped to fund Soldier Socks are United Rentals and the GE Foundation as well as a local family foundation. Their generosity has enabled the donation of another suit which will be donated to the Providence VA Hospital on May 22. Meek hopes to raise enough to get a suit in all 23 of the VA spinal cord centers across the country.
When asked if Meek ever thought it would get this big, he said, “God no. It’s gone so far beyond…from packing up baby wipes and socks to helping veterans walk again.”
Wondering how you can you help? Go to soldiersocks.com or find them on Facebook. Spread the word to family, friends and co-workers. “If everyone donated just $20, they could help thousands of soldiers and paralyzed veterans,'' Meek said. Such a small price to pay to better the lives of those who have given everything for us.
Robyn Blosio Bova is a Stamford native and a Realtor for Higgins Group.