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Chicagoland Organization Helps U.S. Soldiers

Ben Thompson founded an organization that collects money for U.S. troops. Photo by Lauren Rossi.

At the entrance of a major shopping center in a quiet Chicago suburb, a man dressed in a plain, black jacket and jeans waits patiently at a table decorated with American flags. He collects monetary donations in plastic containers for U.S. troops overseas.

In 2011, 25-year-old Chicago native Ben Thompson started 6th Branch, a for-profit organization that sponsors charitable events in the Chicagoland area.

“I wanted to start an organization that not only helped people, but inspired others to give back to the community and those that have sacrificed for this country,” Thompson said.

Although President Barack Obama announced in October the removal of U.S. troops from Iraq, other soldiers still remain throughout the Middle East, in need of basic supplies.

Thompson recognized the ongoing problem and partnered with Operation Support Our Troops. The two groups send thousands of care packages to soldiers, marines, airmen and coast guard members around the world.

For the past year, 6th Branch has sent troops service packages containing everything from protein bars to socks. These basic items make the ordeal of serving in the military a little easier.

“We even send them money, if they need it , anything to make their life somewhat more tolerable,” Thompson said.

The organization includes 55 members. Their goal for this year is to raise more than $200,000 dollars for soldiers fighting overseas and their families.

Over the last year, 6th Branch has sent more than 1,000 pounds of goods to the troops.

Thompson says his inspiration for starting the organization came from the time he spent as a drummer in a band.

“I was living a life of drugs, sex and rock and roll and felt myself searching for the meaning of life,” Thompson said.

At a chance meeting at the Hyde Park Jazz Fest in Chicago, Thompson met a group of entrepreneurs representing Outreach America, a ministry founded in 1984.

Outreach America’s mission is to establish an organization that helps children understand the value of helping others.

Their message impressed the then-24-year-old. After speaking to the men, Thompson says he felt inspired to change the direction of his life.

“I really felt that I wanted to inspire the younger generation… to get involved in charitable causes and to help change their environment for the better,” Thompson said.

So Thompson, and his friend Bill Faudel, started 6th Branch. They wanted to start an enterprise that not only were their source of employment, but helped others as well.

Thompson says that their mission is to reach out to local communities in the area and ask for assistance with national and international relief funds.

“Our goal is to simply reach out to people throughout Chicago, person to person, and ask for help for individuals in need,” Thompson said. Soldiers and their families have expressed gratitude for the donations raised by the group, Thompson said.

In addition to donations, the group also has organized volunteer efforts for events such as “Rocking the Troops” and Wingfest in Naperville.

In September, 6th Branch found a creative way to raise money for U.S. soldiers by sponsoring a five-kilometer obstacle course called Gladiator Games, which was designed by a former army ranger. The course challenged participants by testing strength and endurance. All of the proceeds from the event went to the Support the Troops effort.

Sitting outside a grocery store on a crisp winter day before the Superbowl, the organization raised $1,943 for soldiers’ care packages.

Thompson shows no plans to slow down.

“I hope to create a legacy that lasts for generations and shows others the importance of helping others that are less fortunate.”

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The Hub Bub is a collection of articles, videos, audio, photo slideshows, interactive maps and other media produced by students enrolled in journalism courses at Loyola University Chicago's School of Communication. For more about the School of Communication, our award winning faculty, and our state of the art facilities located in the heart of Chicago, visit our website.