Socks for Heroes & ILR partner
Wesson-based Socks for Heroes (SFH), which seeks to show appreciation for the service of military veterans through holiday gifts, is teaming up with Co-Lin’s Institute for Learning in Retirement (ILR) to make sure it can bring its seasonal cheer again this year.
During September and October, ILR, which provides a program of luncheons, travel and continuing education for retired persons, will be collecting gift items for residents of veterans homes, which SFH volunteers deliver on visits to them during November and December.
ILR has asked its members to acquire and donate regular and gift socks, furry socks for ladies, Christmas cards, blankets, word search books with high lighters to help on crossword puzzles, small notebooks, pullover caps, dominoes, pens, card games, along other clothing, personal care and practical items and knick knacks.
Last year, ILR partnered with area churches to collect gift items and pack them in holiday gift shoeboxes for overseas missions.
“This year, we want to direct the gifts to folk near our homes,” says ILR Co-Lin Coordinator Erin Johnson.
ILR members join some 30 individual volunteers, support of Strong Hope Baptist Church members and assistance from participants in groups who need community service hours, such as Mississippi Scholars and the Wesson Attendance Center Beta Club. “They help collect donations, attend Christmas ceremonies at veterans homes and bag the gifts that are part of our Christmas packages,” says SFH founder Cathy Stroud from Wesson. “Most of them are drawn to Socks for Heroes because they have relatives who served in the military."
SFH teams visit veterans homes at Collins, Kosciusko and Jackson in Mississippi; Reserve Jackson Monroe, Bossier City and Jennings in Louisiana; and two others in Arkansas. In addition to the small individual gifts and cards given to residents of the homes, bigger gifts, such as television sets, are given to the homes for group use
“The gifts are important, but the one-on-one holiday visits with veterans may be more important to bringing joy and cheer to the homes,” Stroud says.
SFH started “Veterans Appreciation Days” when COVID-19 curbed visits to home, and they have continued. “Rather going to veterans, we invite them to come to us at designated locations to pick up free “thank you” bags,” Stroud explains.
A porch conversation between Wesson's Stroud and her sister and a separate discussion with a friend about Christmas gifts were the beginnings of SFH. Stroud, her sister and friend agreed gifts were unimportant for them, and they would like to find a way to help people in need through their Christmas giving. The concept of the unique Wesson-based charity took shape after Stroud’s husband Marty told her about fish fries Walmart, his employer, held at Veterans Administration homes, and a moving experience he had with a young disabled veteran at one event.
"We aren't about collecting money and sending it to the Veterans Administration Jackson," Stroud says. “We’re about providing direct personal assistance through gifts that show appreciation.”
Before COVID 19 interrupted its service, SFH collected upwards of 15,000 pairs of socks, 800 blankets and other items for the 11 veterans homes in Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas. SFH has 501(c) 3 not-for-profit status and is rebuilding a fundraising program that had traditionally included a fishing tournament for youth at Lake Hazle, a 5K run/walk at Hazlehurst, and an annual veterans appreciation fair -- all cancelled during the COVID-19 pandemic.