SALEM, N.H. — The Royer family watched the black faux-leather couch in their Rochester living room slowly dip and sag for a decade without being able to afford a new one.
Several weeks ago, they finally lugged it out of their home when they were given a new one, along with other free housewares, thanks to widespread community support for a local organization dedicated to helping active-duty military personnel, veterans and their loved ones.
Julie Weymouth, executive director of the Homeland Heroes Foundation of Salem, has seen the scenario play out hundreds of times since she helped start the nonprofit back in 2012. For a variety of reasons including financial hardship, emotional struggles and other circumstances, many who have served their country find themselves in need after returning home. So, too, do families while a loved one is deployed.
Several tours to Afghanistan had taken a toll on Jeremy Royer, 37, a U.S. Army Veteran. The father and husband spent significant time on the aging living-room sofa, struggling with the residual effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, night terrors and unshakably aching joints.
Finances already were tight when his 37-year-old wife, Miranda, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma last fall. Doctors said the football-sized mass in her chest was encroaching quickly on her heart, and she'd need to fight for her life.
Jeremy quit his job as a limousine driver to bring her to frequent appointments, including some chemotherapy treatments that lasted more than 90 hours without reprieve. He also was assigned to a reserve unit in Londonderry about that time.
Miranda said she became too weak even to make sandwiches for their three young children — ages 12, 10 and 6. She also lacked the energy to help her husband deal with the crippling mental health disorder he brought home from war.
They leaned on each other more heavily than their marriage had ever required, and each discovered their strengths.
"He loves cooking and I hate cooking," Miranda said, then laughed. "It's his stress relief. So I let him take care of it."
They still, however, needed outside support and financial assistance. And it came a couple weeks ago.
Homeland Heroes has grown since being founded. Now located in a 2,000-square-foot facility at 1 Wall St. in Hudson, it offers gently used furniture, mattresses, sheets, kitchen supplies and children's toys to hundreds of people.
A mixer sitting next to a table covered with coffee mugs and cereal bowls caught Jeremy's eye as he said 'thank you' and hauled his new couch to the car.
"I don't really have one," he said, looking at the handheld appliance.
Weymouth didn't hesitate to give it to him.
"Families can come in and look around with dignity," she said. "They choose what they like and take what they want."
Men and women who have selflessly served their country, she said, often need coaxing to believe that they deserve unhindered graciousness.
"When they enlist, they sign a blank check," she explained. "They don't know how much of their life they're signing away. They deserve the support when they come home. They deserve to be comfortable."
The Homeland Heroes Foundation started organically, with a short talk between strangers at a jewelry store Weymouth's husband owns close to their Salem home.
She was consulting with a client about a missing diamond when conversation shifted and Weymouth learned more about the woman's husband and son serving overseas.
The woman was involved in the Families Readiness Group, a command-sponsored organization intended to open lines of communication and ease strain between servicemen and women and their families during deployments.
"I told her that maybe I could do some Christmas gifts for the families she helps," Weymoth said. "And I asked if that would be helpful."
With arms full of wrapped children's toys and her own family in tow, Weymouth showed up at a Families Readiness Group holiday party shortly after.
"I watched little boys, at 8 years old, video chatting with their fathers overseas and being told that they were the man of the family," she said. "You know full-well that they may never make it home. They may not make it home the way they left, either."
It was heart-wrenching and she knew then that her life was changed.
"I just didn't know exactly how," she said.
Weymouth describes the Homeland Heroes Foundation as a community-wide effort, which is successful because of the varying expertise of eight board members and about 25 volunteers.
Members Kimberly McMahon and her husband, Charlie McMahone, join Madeline Berni, Kimberly Flodin, Kathy Dassler, Mike Abodeely, Kelsey Ferdinando and Joe Lussier on the board. Together, they represent philanthropists, veterans, bank executives and legislators.
Most have been involved since October 2012, when the nonprofit kicked off.
During the years that followed, military organizations like the Veterans Administration and Easter Seals have sent needy veterans their way. Other families, like the Royers, found the Homeland Heroes Foundation on their own, after internet searches.
"We're filling a niche," Weymouth explained. "These organizations are doing as much as they can, but they can't do everything. It takes everyone banding together to do our little parts."
Weymouth in 2012 started her effort with a trip to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, where she sat down with a chaplain and asked for some direction.
"He told me that one of the biggest needs is furniture," she said. "A lot of people come home to nothing and can't work."
A Facebook page and an 8-foot-by-10 foot storage unit quickly filled up once Weymouth put out a call for donations that would be given directly to veterans. Her husband and Kim and Charlie McMahon did all of the pickups and drop offs at the organization's onset.
"Before you knew it, I couldn't fit a paperclip in the storage unit," she said. "And we were lucky to have John Wolters from Chartwell Properties donate this larger space to us."
Frank Makos, the owner of a 1-800-GOT-JUNK, a junk pickup service in Nashua, received a blind call from Weymouth asking for help. As a veteran, he said he felt inclined to be involved.
"They were basically looking for someone to offer up their trucks and their workers to do some pickups," the Air Force veteran said. "We met over coffee and I liked what they were doing right away."
He said his company is contracted, in-part, to pick up mattresses from homes before the 90-day warranty expires. He brings many of those right to the Homeland Heroes Foundation.
"Sometimes they're still in the plastic wrapping," he said. "A lot of these things are new. Why not have a veteran benefit from it instead of just getting rid of it?"
Besides the mattresses and goods housed in the warehouse, Weymouth said the organization has paid for emergency hotel stays for homeless veterans, bought new beds for post9/11 combat veterans, hosted Christmas toy drives and bought food and gas cards.
"We meet the vet wherever they are in life," she said. "Whatever we can do, we do. And if we can't, we find someone who can."
YOU CAN HELP
For more on the organization or to make a donation, visit homelandheroesfoundation.org.
Golf for Homeland Heroes
What: Second annual golf tournament with lunch, raffles, prizes.
When: Monday, Aug. 21; registration is at 7 a.m. and tee-time is 8 a.m.
Where: Merrimack Valley Course, Methuen, Mass.
How: Cost is$125. Sign up at homelandheroesfoundation.org and for more information, call Frank at 603-818-9786.