Yellow ribbons are a nice gesture, but there is a better way to support Maine soldiers: Buy a “We Support Our Troops” license plate — soon.

Buying a yellow ribbon puts money into the coffers of those who design and sell them. Getting a troop support plate puts money into the hands of military families in Maine that need assistance.

The plates, which were first available in November 2007, cost an additional $20 ($45 for vanity plates and $15 for renewals). Of that, $10 goes to the Maine National Guard Foundation Fund to provide financial assistance to members of the Maine Army National Guard or Reserve and their families for emergencies and other special needs. Use of the funds is determined by a nine-member “We Support Our Troops” advisory board.

Sales of the plates have raised nearly $50,000. That money has helped military families buy heating oil, pay for car repairs and deal with other emergencies.

But, if more of the plates are not sold by the end of the month, the plate will have to be eliminated.

By law, the secretary of state must discontinue sales of the plate if 4,000 are not sold by Nov. 1. Actually, the law says Nov. 1, 2008, which means the plate got a one-year reprieve from elimination. To date, 3,565 of the plates have been sold. It was only recently that Secretary of State Matt Dunlap was notified by his staff that the discontinuation was overdue.

Since word of the pending discontinuation, another 70 have been sold.

One reason cited for the low sales numbers is that there has been no advertising. However, if Americans aren’t aware of the hundreds of Maine soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, no amount of advertising will help.

It is more likely that while many motorists are supportive of these troops and their families, they aren’t ready to profess that support through a license plate. Even if the plates are discontinued, the fund they support — and other military assistance funds — will remain. That means those who want to continue the assistance fund can do so through a contribution without changing their license plates.

For a list of funds, visit the Maine Army National Guard Family Program Web site at, although few of them make it clear how to make a donation — something that may be easier to fix than selling more license plates.

Supporting our troops should be more than a slogan or rallying cry. The license plate and accompanying fund offer a way to ensure it is.