Mission: Provide Christmas cheer to returning military veterans and those still stationed overseas. Status: Ongoing.
The Los Angeles Branch of the Veterans Employment Commission (VEC) on Wednesday held “Operation Holiday”, an annual event to distribute food, toys and other needed items to veterans and families of military personnel. The event was held at American Legion Post 43 in Hollywood.
“It’s not just about the holidays,” said E.J. Steele, the regional chairman for VEC. “It’s about creating the relationship between veterans and nonprofits” that cater to returning military personnel.
Volunteers distributed frozen turkeys, food items, toys and more to families who attended Wednesday’s event. Steele said money is often scarce for returning veterans, and the event aims to keep them from choosing between gifts for their children or food during the holidays.
“The last thing we want is for them to reach into their pocket,” he said.
VEC’s main objective is to help returning military personnel gain employment after returning home, but for the last three years, they’ve held “Operation Holiday” to make the transition back to civilian life a little easier, Steele said.
“For the veterans coming home, getting a job is only the beginning,” he added.
Steele said the organization does a lot of outreach to garner community partners for “Operation Holiday” and its resource expo, which are VEC’s largest events. Mattel, Neversoft, Eventbrite, Pete’s Coffee, Toys for Tots and Post 43 contributed to this year’s distribution.
“We’ve been overwhelmed by the generosity of the community,” Steele said. “It’s a really good feeling to do this. We really can’t do enough to help the men and women who serve this country.”
He said some of the veterans who receive VEC assistance are homeless, while others have newborn children or kids on the way. A little holiday assistance can go a long way for those families, Steele said.
About 10 or 15 volunteers participated Wednesday, and Jacqueline “Cookie Lady” Cohl was among them. She said she has been baking cookies for several weeks in advance of the event. Cohl said she is pleased to help, especially since her nephew is currently serving in Afghanistan.
“I keep thinking, ‘I hope somebody’s baking cookies for him,’” she said.
Post 43 is also preparing for some holiday events for military personnel. Adjutant finance officer and events administrator Terry Duddy said the post has 20 active members of the military, some of whom are in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This month, the American Legion will host two military families to prime rib dinner with Santa Claus. The post also recently finished its charitable organization donation distribution, in which $25,000 was given directly to organizations that support veterans, Duddy said.
He said such events are very important for military personnel and veterans. The holidays are difficult for those serving overseas, so some acknowledgment can be especially heart-warming, Duddy said.
“It’s not just important that you donate,” he said. “It’s the idea that you make contact with them. Many times, they need to have direct contact to know someone else is out there.”
VEC is always seeking goods, money and in-kind donations. For more information or to help, visit www.sfvvec.org. For more information about Post 43, visit www.hollywoodpost43.org.
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