Supporting Military Families—Part I

Display of cleaning products in the Ft. Belvoir commissary as part of our military resale program

Two of the best perks available to military personnel, their families, and retirees are the commissaries and exchanges found on military bases. Commissaries — the equivalent of grocery stores — and exchanges — the equivalent of a department stores — sell goods at substantial savings, helping military families stretch their budgets. Products produced in National Industries for the Blind’s (NIB) military resale (MR) program have been included on those commissary and exchange shelves since the 1950s.

“It’s a great benefit for those in the military and their families,” says Anne-Marie Wallace, director of the military resale program at NIB. It also represents a great partnership for NIB.

The MR program provides employment for 400 people who are blind across 18 agencies, many of whom have disabilities in addition to blindness, which can make finding a job even more difficult. Agencies in the MR program make or package nearly 1,000 unique items.

The Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) oversees commissaries for all branches of the military, purchasing the grocery items and goods sold in more than 225 commissaries in the United States and around the world. DeCA’s long-term support of the MR program fuels the program’s growth and has created countless jobs over the years.

Because commissaries are mission essential, they have remained open throughout the pandemic — as have agencies in the MR program, doing whatever is needed to address supply-chain issues and keep their programs running.

The Chester County Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CCABVI) in Pennsylvania, is one example. For 30 years, CCABVI has made items like ironing board covers, laundry bags, kitchen towels and dish cloths, oven mitts, polishing cloths, and potholders for the MR program. During the pandemic, CCABVI quickly responded to supply chain issues by working with suppliers on the fly to keep producing products.

LCI, headquartered in Durham, North Carolina, runs two distribution centers for the MR program — one in Las Vegas and one in North Carolina — and has seven manufacturing plants in multiple states. As part of the program, LCI produces SKILCRAFT® plastic and biodegradable flatware, mops, and brooms among other products.

LCI has kept all locations up and running during the pandemic with no slowdown in production. “We took extra safety precautions to stay open, and in cases where there were supply-chain issues, all the agencies pulled together, because we all share the same mission. All of our folks pitched in and said, ‘We’re going to do this,’ ” said Anne Kramer, a commercial account manager at LCI

A military spouse for 20 years, Kramer says commissary discounts helped her feed her young children a healthy diet during two tours in Germany. “It’s a win-win because it helps employ people who are blind and benefits military families with quality, U.S.-made products at excellent prices.”

Next week: Learn about the unique Impulse program and family connections to the program.