Supporting Military Families—Part II

Woman who is blind wearing a mask and packing a box in a warehouse setting

The National Industries for the Blind (NIB) Military Resale (MR) program supports two of the best perks available to military personnel, retirees, and their families: The commissaries and exchanges found on military bases, which sell groceries and goods at substantial savings to help families stretch their budgets. Approximately 400 people who are blind working across 18 NIB associated nonprofit agencies produce products sold in more than 225 commissaries located in the United States and around the world, and have since the 1950s.

The commissary benefit, originally available only to officers, was expanded to include enlisted personnel more than 150 years ago. The Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) oversees commissaries for all branches of the military and purchases all of the goods sold.

The ability of people working in the MR program to pull together and adapt to change has been especially important during the pandemic. Carroll Foreman, general manager of Alphapointe’s Queens, New York facility, which packages latex gloves and makes cleaning items like the SKILCRAFT® Speedy Scrubber, as well as brushes, brooms, and mops for the MR program, says that employees were highly adaptable when the pandemic hit and the facility experienced supply-chain challenges. “Everyone was more than willing, because they wanted to contribute, to get the job done,” says Foreman.

Headquartered in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, IFB Solutions is an MR agency that fills a unique niche. Employees in its Impulse Merchandise Program are responsible for packaging and shipping items like the packs of straws shoppers see hanging in the grocery aisle near the soda pop. “We get hundreds of products, and our employees package them as part of the Impulse program,” explains Julie Cooper, IFB Solutions’ senior manager of military markets.

Started in 1998 at IFB Solutions’ Winston-Salem location, the Impulse program — which employs about 35 people who are blind — has been in Asheville for more than 20 years. Lisa Berry, who joined IFB Solutions in Asheville about six and a half years ago, is one employee who found her way to the Impulse program. She loves the work and being able to support military members, including her daughter who is in the Air Force.

“When she was in basic training, everyone was given kit bags that we make here and told that they were made by people who are blind,” Berry recalls proudly. “My daughter told everyone that her mother works for that company.”