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Many walked out with multiple bags in their hands. They could barely fit all the blessings that were inside.
On Wednesday, veterans and their families received a Christmas bounty thanks to the generosity from the community and Veterans Residential Services of Wilson.
“It’s more blessings that I could even speak of,” said Frank Stead. “Words can’t even express it.”
Stead, a Marine Corps veteran, was one of hundreds who attended the nonprofit’s annual Christmas party held inside the conference room at Wilson County Public Library.
The program was an opportunity to give back to veterans in need this holiday season. New clothing, toiletries, shoes, Christmas decorations and toys for children of all ages lined the tables. The toys were for veterans whose children and grandchildren were in need of gifts this Christmas.
“It means a lot,” Stead said with a wide smile. “In fact, not just today, but what they do all year long.”
Stead said two years ago Veterans Residential helped him get out of a hotel and into an apartment where he still lives. Because of the nonprofit’s efforts to help him, he has in return given back to them. He said he steers other veterans he knows to the agency.
“These guys are a blessing,” he said.
Veterans Residential, which began in 2012, works with low-income, homeless and at-risk veterans in Wilson and beyond. The organization also provides financial and emergency assistance as well as employment training and referrals for local veterans.
“For many of them, this is going to be their only Christmas,” said Claudia Baker, Veterans Residential Services of Wilson executive director. She said some veterans don’t have money to go out and shop for the children or grandchildren they are raising.
“Here they can come pick out what they want,” Baker said.
Last year’s Christmas party program served 140 veterans, 70 spouses and 202 children, who received toys. Within an hour, more than 100 veterans had already been through the doors to do a little Christmas “shopping.”
“We are making sure that all our veterans have some kind of Christmas whether it’s decorations, a new coat, toys for their kids or grandkids,” Baker said. “Everybody enjoys getting up on Christmas morning. With our veterans, I feel like when they walk in there, that’s sort of what they feel like. This is their Christmas. They are different from what they were when they came in.”
Families received a turkey and all the fixings, and single veterans received a canned ham and other food items.
“We make sure both of them have some type of Christmas meal,” Baker said.
One community member donated six cases of fruit; others donated assorted pastries as well. The group also put together stockings for children.
“It’s takes a lot of work,” Baker said. “The only way this happens is through a community effort. We have a lot of community partners. We have great supporters.”
Baker said businesses and
individuals stepped in to help them take care of veterans and their families this season.
“Thanks to the generosity of a lot of good people, that’s how this happens,” she added.
Baker said one veteran who attended Wednesday’s event is raising someone else’s child after the parent was killed. Now that little girl will be able to have Christmas because of others.
Another veteran whose wife died is also raising his granddaughter.
“This is the only way he can do anything,” Baker said. “He doesn’t have the extra money.”
The agency works each day to help veterans get their lives back because they have done so much for others and their country. And they continue to see an increase in much-needed services.
“The need is truly there,” she said. “The need is growing so fast, and you have to be prepared.”
Baker is the only paid staff member at the nonprofit that also distributes food to veterans. The group relies on many volunteers to help them each week.
The nonprofit currently serves 503 veterans in their programs, up by more than 100 from the previous year.
“We have three little small offices,” Baker said. “On Tuesdays and Thursdays our rooms are packed.”
‘WE WANT TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN OUR VETERANS’ LIVES’
Baker also shared a heartfelt story about helping another veteran recently.
“If you could just get me a Christmas tree, I would be happy,” the veteran told Baker. She said she reached out to someone in the community and showed up to his home the next day with a tree and Christmas decorations.
The veterans couldn’t believe he had a Christmas tree.
“He called me back sobbing on the phone,” she said. “He said, ‘I can sit here in my little trailer and look at my Christmas tree, and I’m just as happy as I can be.’”
Baker said a lot of people don’t realize how small gestures for veterans touch their hearts.
“Somebody brought Christmas back into his life,” she said.
And that’s what Veterans Residential hoped to do Wednesday.
“We want to make a difference in our veterans’ lives,” she said. “We want to make sure they know they are respected, give them the dignity and respect they deserve. And do anything we can do to help them have that life they deserve.”
Veterans Residential Services of Wilson is located at 2500 Nash St., Suite E. For more information contact them at 252-237-4778.