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Tis The Season for Giving at The Columbia VA Health Care System

Members of nonprofit charitable organization Soldiers’ Angels, help to assemble food baskets at the Dorn VA Medical Center, Dec. 13, in preparation of distributing the baskets to local veterans in need.
Members of nonprofit charitable organization Soldiers’ Angels, help to assemble food baskets at the Dorn VA Medical Center, Dec. 13, in preparation of distributing the baskets to local veterans in need.

The holiday season, despite being the most wonderful time of the year, can also be the most stressful time of the year for many. This sentiment especially rings true for those in need of food, clothing, and gifts this time of year.

At the Columbia VA Health Care System (CVAHCS), there are hundreds of Veterans across the state who struggle with food insecurity, a lack of adequate clothing, and financial problems that leave them unable to provide a present-filled Christmas morning.

To meet the high demand for assistance, CVAHCS’ community relations and engagement department relies heavily on community partnerships across the Midlands and Upstate. Despite the impact that COVID-19 continues to place on local communities, CVAHCS’ partners ensured that their impact remained strong too.

“This time of year can be extremely challenging for several of our Veterans in our local communities,” said CVAHCS Director/CEO David Omura. “The Columbia VA family is always grateful for the partnerships we have throughout the state, and individuals and organizations large and small routinely step up during the holidays to help us make our Veterans feel special during the holidays.”

At this time of year, the Dorn VA Medical Center (VAMC) typically welcomes a parade of more than 3,000 motorcyclists delivering a plethora of gifts and donations to the medical center. However, due to the ongoing pandemic, the parade of motorcycles for the 21st annual Vet’s Christmas Charity Ride was cancelled, but that did not stop the efforts of local businesses, organizations, and individuals to help the CVAHCS in providing local Veterans with a happy holiday season.

Retired Army Sergeant Major Jim Wertman, co-founder of the charity ride, says that he saw a great need to help military members and Veterans around the holiday times, something that he experienced twice after being wounded during his time in service.  

Even though there was no official charity ride, Wertman still collected donations and on Dec. 12, the donations were transported to the Dorn VAMC campus, to be catalogued and sorted before being gifted to Veterans in the community who were recommended by their social workers.
With the great amount of donations received over the past few months, volunteers from Fort Jackson, Soldier’s Angels, Dominion Energy, Disabled American Veterans, and others visited the Dorn campus, Dec. 13-15, to assist in the sorting and building of food baskets, clothing bags, and gifts.

“It’s always a great feeling when you’re able to help people in need,” said Derrick Proctor, a volunteer from Dominion Energy. “It’s a great thing to be able to help people, and to be a part of the giving spirit.”

“Giving back to veterans is therapeutic for me,” said Rovenia Jenkins, Army Veteran and VA representative for Soldier’s Angels, a non-profit charitable organization dedicated to assisting military members, Veterans, and their families. “It makes me emotional to be able to give back and to see and appreciate all of the donations that the community has provided.”

On Dec. 20, the CVAHCS received a donation of more than $10,000 worth of toys from the Alpha Omega Phi (AOP) Military Fraternity and Sorority, to be distributed to Veterans with children

“We believe that our Veterans need to be taken care of and that the community needs organizations to help push an effort to help one another,” said Ken Thompson, an Army Veteran and member of AOP. “Our purpose is to make sure the Veterans comes first. Knowing that we were able to supply toys to help our Veterans during these hard times is a blessing.”

To wrap up the season of giving, CVAHCS received a visit from former University of South Carolina standout and NFL wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who visited the Dorn VAMC campus to donate funds to provide more than 70 hot meals and desserts to Veterans, and their families, who are enrolled in the CVAHCS’ Mental Health Intensive Case Management Program (MHICM).

“Mental health challenges find us all, me included… In learning more about [the MHICM program], which host an annual Christmas luncheon but cannot meet this year due to COVID, it was all I needed to hear,” said Jeffery. “It is the least I could do given the thought of Veterans missing out, not only on a hot meal, but the comradery of Christmas. They are true heroes and often to are not seen nor heard and this is a small way to let them know that I hear and see them.”  

In total, the donations raised in the community allowed the CVAHCS and volunteers to assemble and distribute more than 400 baskets to Veterans and their families in the community.

The combination of the Vet’s Christmas Charity Ride, the AOP Military Fraternity and Sorority, Disabled American Veterans, Soldiers’ Angels, community donations, the CVAHCS food pantry, and thousands of volunteer hours helped ensure that hundreds of South Carolinian Veterans and their families received a warm holiday meal and a gift to open on Christmas morning.

“The holiday season can be very stressful for everyone. It’s heartwarming to help alleviate some of that stress on Veterans and their families by providing donations and letting them know that their selfless sacrifices are not forgotten,” said Tammy Finney, CVAHCS chief of community relations and engagement. “None of this would be possible without the year-round efforts and donations that we receive from our amazing community partners. Every single donation we receive makes a tremendous impact in the lives of our Veterans.”

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