SoldierSocks Gives Back to Troops
Stamford’s Chris Meek helps troops off and on the battlefield
Robert F. Kennedy once said, The purpose of life is to contribute in some way to making things better." For Stamford resident Chris Meek, those are words he lives by.
While he never served in the Armed Forces himself, Meek has made it his life’s work to helping those who have from providing basic necessities such as socks to giving the gift of walking to paralyzed veterans.
Back in 2009, Meek’s vision for the organization SoldierSocks he co-founded with close friend Scott Duffy was simple – collect essential toiletries, like baby wipes and socks, to send to troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. He and Duffy were stunned to learn the needs of troops after a friend had shared a letter from a marine who was serving in Afghanistan who had said there was a dire demand for the items. With a need so basic, Meek and Duffy knew they could fill in the gaps, and the organization was started.
The baby wipes are essential for hygienic purposes, as many the troops were living in foxholes and away from the bases with no access to showers, and socks because of the rough terrain and extreme temperatures they were exposed to forced then to have frequent changes of socks. “I saw this as a real opportunity to make a small difference,” said Meek who by day is a vice-president at State Street Global Advisors.
The father of three partnered with Stamford’s Hope Street Pharmacy, now called Connecticut Pharmacy, and New Balance of New Canaan to help with the donation of toiletries and socks and UPS of Norwalk.
“I was interested in helping those who serve in the military because not serving is one of life’s regrets,” said the candid Meek. “I used to work in the World Trade Center and I was in the shadows of the Twin Towers on 9/11, so I have a pretty good understanding of why and what we’re fighting for.”
The altruistic idea of helping those serving spread, and soon Boy and Girl Scout troops, police and fire departments, schools, youth groups and local retailers were lending a hand to help the cause. In a short span of time, Meek and SoldierSocks has garnered donations from Maine to Florida, and as far as California.
Following the collection of all the goods, Meek would pick up donations, and then store them in his spacious garage at his home in Stamford. Friends, neighbors, and those interested in lending their hands to SoldierSocks would descend on Meek’s home, and sort the donations, and pack the boxes of supplies before their eventual shipment to Iraq and Afghanistan
Even elected officials took part in the endeavors -- Lt. Governor and Stamford resident Michael Fedele and his family also participated at Meek’s celebrated ‘packing parties.’
In 2009, syndicated radio show Elvis Duran and the Morning Show selected Soldier Socks as one of its charities for the holiday season, helping the organization gain immense national traction. In 2010, SoldierSanta was created to help send gifts to troops during the holiday season, and a year later, the organization was recognized by President Obama and received the President’s Volunteer Service Award.
Fast forward five years, SoldierSocks has grown leaps and bounds, and today, as Chairman, Meek is taking the organization to new heights and helping Veterans who have lost their ability to walk due severe injuries and paralysis sustained while serving their country.
Last year, SoliderSocks partnered with Richmond, California-based technology company Ekso Bionics which has developed a state-of-the art exoskeleton suit that helps those with lower paralysis to stand up and walk again. Meek learned about Ekso Bionics purely by accident after reading an article in a magazine, and he had a eureka moment where he knew SoldierSocks could play a role with giving paralyzed soldiers access to the expensive suits which cost about $140,000 each.
After learning more about the company, Meek quickly gleaned that Ekso Bionics is committed to the military as the company’s Chief Technology Officer who designed the equipment has a brother who is a Navy SEAL.
“To see someone paralyzed from the chest down to stand up and walk, is fascinating,” said Meek. “When you see what the suit does and how it affects someone’s life, is great.”
Meek admits he first thought the organization would conclude much of its work as the War on Terror wound down, and as troops began to return home but he realized the even with them back in United States, their needs are still great, the work and mission of SoliderSocks is even stronger.
Is Meek surprised on the immense growth SoldierSocks has seen in short life?
“If someone had told me in July 2009 when we started that we would end up shipping over 55,000 pounds of supplies to 53 units in Iraq and Afghanistan I would have laughed at them. And then if they would have told me we also established three scholarship programs and in six months funded 5 Ekso suits at a cost of $140,000 each, I would have thought they were crazy,” said Meek.
“That being said, it’s been an honor to be involved with so many great people who have helped SoldierSocks transform and adapt to the changing needs of our military and veterans.”
To learn more about this organization and how to get involved, visit soldiersocks.com.