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The spirit of giving filled the air Tuesday as hundreds of veterans received an early Christmas.
“I’m just blessed,” Gloria Whitley said, smiling as she and her husband, Bobby, a U.S. Army and Air Force veteran, perused a table full of gifts. “I think it’s great they are giving back to the veterans.”
Tuesday marked the sixth annual Veterans Residential Services of Wilson’s Christmas party held at First Baptist Church on Nash Street. The event is an opportunity to give back to veterans in need during the holiday season.
Veterans were able to pick out a variety of items for themselves and their families, including clothes, shoes, coats, hats and toys for their children or grandchildren.
“I feel like my babies are going to be happy this year,” Gloria Whitley said as she picked out toys for her grandkids.
Last year’s Christmas giveaway served 335 veterans and their families. But this year, 450 veterans and their families were expected to walk through the doors Tuesday.
“This is the best year,” said Claudia Baker, Veterans Residential Services of Wilson executive director. “We’ve had the biggest response from our community. It is fantastic.”
Veterans Residential Services, 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. Baker said the giveaway is special each year. For most veterans and their families, it will be the only Christmas they receive.
“A lot of them wouldn’t have anything,” Baker said. With assistance from churches to individuals as well as local corporations, including Merck, the agency was able to bring cheer to many veterans and their families Tuesday.
“You can see here how much stuff we’ve got,” Baker said. “It’s amazing what the people have done to help us.”
Baker said it’s also an opportunity for veterans to know the community truly cares for them and appreciates their service.
‘HELPING THEM HAVE A MERRY CHRISTMAS’
Timothy Wells Sr., a retired and disabled U.S. Army veteran, said while he isn’t homeless or at-risk, Tuesday’s event was a great blessing for him this Christmas.
“It helps me out a lot,” he said, adding that he has multiple grandchildren. He said he was thankful to those who recognize veterans and the sacrifices they’ve made to serve their country.
Veterans were also treated with homemade refreshments Tuesday. And not only did they leave with bags full of goodies, but they were also given a turkey or ham and a box full of food to make a complete Christmas meal.
“A lot of veterans are forgotten,” said volunteer Helen Sharpe, member of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the United Daughters of the Confederacy. “All of these men in here are in need.”
She said the organizations in which she holds membership work to honor veterans throughout the year, including helping with the food pantry. She said volunteering gives her an opportunity to see what the need is. But it also warmed her heart to know one thing Tuesday.
“We’re helping them have a Merry Christmas,” she said.
For more information, call Veterans Residential Services of Wilson at 252-237-4778. Monetary donations can be mailed to 2500 Nash St., Suite E, Wilson NC 27896. The agency’s website is www.vrsw.org.