If you are a Minnesota veteran who served our country after the 9/11 terror attacks, you may be eligible for free money.
'There is nothing else like the Minnesotans' Military Appreciation Fund in the country,' said Roger Sit, chairman of the Minnesotans' Military Appreciation Fund. 'We are the only state in the union that has this.'
The Minnesotans' Military Appreciation Fund (MMAF) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization. Its only mission is to say thanks to Minnesota veterans.
'We all remember what happened during Vietnam, and our military service members, as well as their families, were frowned upon. And we wanted to make sure that that didn't happen again,' Sit said. 'We as Minnesotans want to say 'thank you' to our service members and their families, for their duty, for their loyalty to our country, for us to have the way of life that we often take for granted. And we want to also say 'thank you' to their families for the sacrifices that they're making.'
Since 2005, MMAF has awarded $12.5 million in grants to more than 18,700 recipients. Organization officials say they believe there are another 20,000 Minnesota veterans who qualify and haven't applied.
'I think initially when they don't know about us, they think it's some sort of scam,' Sit said, 'because who's going to give away free money, right?'
Anybody from Minnesota or anyone who was connected with a Minnesota unit that has served honorably since 9/11 in a hostile territory qualifies.
According to Sit, 'Our grants range and amounts for anybody who's served honorably gets at least a $500 grant. And no questions asked how that money is spent. If you receive a Purple Heart, you can get anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 depending on the severity of your injury. And if you're killed in action, your family is given $5,000.'
It's a grassroots effort. Donations come from every corner of Minnesota and the grants are distributed to veterans all over the state. Now, former Marine Corps Four-Star General and the 26th U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis is joining the mission. He's speaking at the MMAF Appreciation Dinner next Friday.
'Americans, by nature, are a generous people,' Mattis said. 'And it's no surprise that they're in the northern part of our heartland, Minnesota, which is known for being generous. This would be the quintessential example of a local idea born of immigrants and native-born and embracing the veterans, helping them open the next chapter of their lives.'
Mattis is no stranger to Minnesota.
'My mother's family immigrated to Minnesota to Biwabik on the Mesabi Range,' Mattis said. 'Only people coming from Winnipeg, Manitoba could say, 'Yeah, the winters weren't so bad in Minnesota!' But my Pacific Northwest family retains great fondness for Minnesota. From the Boundary Waters -- I've canoed there -- to the Twin Cities and elsewhere.'
In his book, 'Call Sign Chaos,' Mattis writes he hopes the book 'conveys my respect for those men and women who selflessly commit to serving our country.'
That's exactly what the Minnesotans' Military Appreciation Fund does.
And I think all Americans owe gratitude to those who went in harm's way,' Mattis said. 'So, I think this appreciation fund, the Minnesotans' Military Appreciation Fund, shows that Minnesotans don't take it for granted that they really believe this is something that should be recognized and respected.'
'That's exactly what we're doing,' Sit added. 'He articulates it very well. And we try to articulate it as simple as possible as well. That's why we're just saying 'thank you.' Thanks for what our service members and their families, you're doing for us. Because, remember, freedom is not free.'
Only in Minnesota, a grassroots effort to say thanks to the men and women who have served and sacrificed so much.
Mattis will be speaking at the Minnesotans' Military Appreciation Dinner on Oct. 8, 2021. It's at the Doubletree by Hilton, located on Normandale Boulevard in Bloomington. One-hundred percent of the proceeds raised will go to Minnesota veterans and their families.
More information about the grant application process can be found here. Those with questions may also call 1-877-668-4269.