Underserved veterans receive coats, blankets and more at annual luncheon
By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
SOUTHGATE – Autistic teen Dillon Marshall-Alley has discovered that the more he helps others, the more he helps himself, and pushing himself outside of his comfort zone has given him unexpected rewards.
Marshall-Alley, a senior at Lincoln Park High School, was encouraged to pursue service projects to help him learn to face and overcome some of the stressors that were limiting factors in his daily interactions. This is his third Veterans Day Thanksgiving luncheon for veterans, and one of numerous drives.
He said it feels good to help veterans.
“It feels good that they get a meal, and they get to talk to everybody,” Marshall-Alley said. “It is really nice.”
His second hour classmates in teacher Julie Laurin’s classroom at Lincoln Park High School collected personal hygiene products and created handmade cards and messages for each veteran.
“It was great,” he said.
At noon Nov. 19, the Michigan Veterans Foundation brought a bus full of 56 veterans in its program to the Southgate Veterans of Foreign Wars Hall, 16200 Dix-Toledo Road, where the Taylor and Southgate VFW Auxiliaries from posts 9283 and 4422, and select members of the Shielded Souls Motorcycle Club served a turkey and trimmings luncheon, and Marshall-Alley and his supporters distributed the items they purchased and collected for the veterans during a fall drive.
In addition to the veterans onsite, the bus left with supplies for other veterans it serves. Additional coats will be delivered to Emmanuel House, a homeless shelter for veterans, before Christmas. Donations also were given to the group Vets Returning Home, a non-profit in Roseville.
Each veteran at the luncheon received a new coat, a new fleece blanket with eight pairs of socks, a new backpack and toiletries. New hats and scarves, candy, fresh fruit, and miscellaneous clothing items also were available for the veterans to select what they wanted.
Taylor Mayor Rick Sollars said it was heartwarming to see the veterans enjoying the event.
“This is sometimes the highlight of their year,” he said. “So, when you see kids like Dillon and their family and all the volunteers come together, it is really nice, because it reminds you that you can make a difference in someone’s life.”
Sollars said when one sees the veterans leave with the simple things which many of us take for granted, it is heart-warming to know the project was spearheaded by a 17-year-old.
“It is a reminder to anybody that you, too, can make a difference,” Sollars said. “When you come and see how grateful these veterans are, that, in itself, is so rewarding.”
VFW volunteer Marian Belaire said Marshall-Alley is her hero.
“I wish we all had sons like this,” she said. “And thank you to the veterans. Because of you, we are here, doing what we are doing.”
Sherri Zaddach, of the Michigan Department of Veteran and Family Services, said she reminds the veterans that because they served us, it is the public’s turn to serve them.
“This is just amazing, and these guys are so appreciative,” she said. “They are from the Michigan Veterans Foundation in downtown Detroit. We want to make sure, before winter really hits, that they all have coats and blankets and all the supplies they need to stay warm this winter.”
She said the veterans at the luncheon live in a new building run by the MVF, where they can stay for up to four years. They have opportunities to learn job skills, have help finding a job, and transition to an apartment when ready. Veterans who are disabled are helped to find long-term solutions for their needs.
Zaddach said some homeless veterans, who live outdoors and are afraid of entering buildings, are served by the warming centers, which will receive supplies as well.
She affirmed that there is a definite need for more mental health care resources for veterans. She said events like this are valuable, because the volunteers get to meet the underserved veterans to find out what they specifically need.
“This is the best time for me, that I look forward to every single year,” Zaddach said. “It is worth the smiles, the tears, the hugs, the hard work. It is all worth it.”
Army veteran Aaron Hale said he was filled with appreciation for the items he received at the luncheon.
“I am glad to be here, and glad to have made it through, and to experience the love and camaraderie that is here,” he said.
Army veteran William Anderson, who served during the Gulf War, said he was grateful to be there, and said he was able to get help he needed through the MVF for substance abuse. He said he has been approved for a 12-month treatment program in Ohio, and was waiting for an opening.
MVF case manager Max Moylan said they serve transitional veterans, getting referrals through the Veterans Administration. They get veterans of all ages, all walks of life, and help them find housing and connect with other services the veterans need.
“They are all veterans, and it might be their first time being homeless, or they might be homeless numerous times, and with the VA, certain aspects are hard to navigate,” Moylan said. “Myself, personally, being a veteran, I have had a hard time navigating it at times. I think a fresh start is the best way to put it, and giving these guys another chance.”
Moylan said the MVF helps the country give back to the veterans what they have given to the country.
He said groups wanting to do a drive could collect new socks, underwear and toiletries, which the MVF stores and distributes to individual veterans as needed.
Moylan said the primary focus of the MVF is getting veterans in need into housing. They also get the veterans in contact with people who can help them with their financial situation, to get a food substance allowance, and to point them in the right direction if they have a disability claim.
Moylan, who was an Army medic for seven years, said he was happy to be able to help fellow veterans.
“I had always wanted to do something with veterans, since getting out of school, and I am currently back in school, working on my masters, but I always wanted to work with veterans in some sense, and when the opportunity came up to work with the MVF, it was a great opportunity,” Moylan said.
He said financial donations to the MVF are also appreciated. For more information, go to michiganveteransfoundation.org.
Other donors include Deans Transportation; J & P Designs; Custom Wood Designs; Lauren Libkuman of Pure Romance; Vito’s Pizzeria; Dr. Michael Izzo, DDS; Dave and Gale Yard Art; Tracy Langley of Scentsy; Grekin Skin Institute; Amvet Riders of Armada; Belleville Moose Lodge 934; Red Rooster; Karen Fritz of Avon; and American Legion Women’s Auxiliary unit 389. Chef Barney of Dearborn Heights donated and cooked all of the food.
For updates on year-round drives for causes Marshall-Alley supports, go to his Facebook page, Dillon Marshall-Alley’s Group Page.