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  • Bob Arnold

Veterans gifts program coming back

By Bob Arnold

Veterans gifts program coming back

Wesson-based Socks for Heroes (SFH) has resumed its visits to veterans homes to bring holiday cheer to their residents.

The group, which seeks to show appreciation for the service of military veterans, through gifts of clothing, personal care and small practical items, blankets, games and knickknacks, had been stymied by the effects of the COVID 19 in recent years. It struggled to raise funds, and its visits to veterans homes in Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas during the holiday season were restricted, including delivery of individual gift packages to residents and larger items, such as television sets, for the facilities to provide for their populations as a whole.

Today, fundraising is improving, and visits are allowed again, although a few homes still restrict them.

Last week and early this week, SFH teams visited homes at Collins, Kosciusko and Jackson in Mississippi and Reserve Jackson, Monroe and Bossier City and Jennings in Louisiana. Veterans at the homes received individual gift bags, including non-slip socks, toboggan hats, gloves, word search guidebooks and pens, and the facilities received supplies of body wash and shampoo, blankets and diabetic socks to share with their residents as needed. Residents also receive signed greetings cards that demonstrate they are remembered.

“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,” SFH’s Cathy Stroud says.

Participating in the visits were Stroud, Jean King, Carolyn Butler, Barbara Ashley, Billy Thomas, Katie Hall, Guy Nix, Patricia Lake, Mamie Dubose, Jean Errington and Sharon Langley.

With resumption of the veterans home visits, SFH is not discontinuing the “Veterans Appreciation Days,” which it started last year as an alternative when it couldn’t go to the homes. “Rather going to veterans, we invite them to come to us at designated locations to pick up free “thank you” bags,” Stroud explains. “It was popular last year. So we are continuing it.”

SFH is scheduling “Veterans Appreciation Days” at Wesson, Georgetown and Brookhaven. Gifts or funds to purchase items for the “thank you” bags can be donated at the Wesson American Legion hall, Georgetown City Hall and Wand’s Feed Store in Brookhaven.

SFH started in a porch conversation between Wesson's Stroud had with her sister and in a separate discussion with a friend about Christmas gifts. The three women agreed gifts were unimportant for them, and they would like to find a way to help people in need through their Christmas giving. After Stroud’s husband Marty told her about fish fries Walmart, his employer, held at Veterans Administration homes, and meeting a young disabled veteran whose special needs moved him, she formulated the concept of the unique Wesson-based charity.

"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.”

In 2012, Stroud visited the home for veterans at Collins, Mississippi, where she learned to her surprise that socks were the primary need of residents and that they would also appreciate gloves, hats, notebooks, pens and playing cards.

"We have just kept growing since then," Stroud says.

In recent years before COVID 19, SFH collected upwards of 15,000 pairs of socks, 800 blankets and other items for the four veterans homes in Mississippi, five in Louisiana and two in Arkansas.

"We have 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, Stroud reports. “They help collect donations, attend Christmas ceremonies at veterans homes and bag the gifts that are part of our Christmas packages. Most of them are drawn to Socks for Heroes because they have relatives who served in the military."

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.

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