Veterans in Hillsborough County get Christmas treats from area charities

12/20/13 Janelle Irwin
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Tags: homeless, Hillsborough County, veterans


Volunteers and staff from a veteran-owned IT company pack gift bags with goodies and hygiene supplies for homeless veterans.

photo by Janelle Irwin

Hillsborough County Veterans were given gifts and lunch in recognition of their service Friday at The Veteran’s Memorial Park in East Tampa. Some of the vets are homeless with no families to spend time with during the holidays, while others have successfully transitioned from military service to civilian life.

The Hillsborough Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program planned on feeding and pampering as many as 50 vets during its Veteran’s holiday lunch.

“This is the only Christmas that a lot of them are going to have.”

Curtis Wilson is a veteran service officer for Hillsborough County. He filled a cooler with soda and water as volunteers and employees of the veteran-owned IT company Vykin stuffed red, white and green gift bags.

“…goodies, food, cookies, chips, hygiene items, sometimes gift cards – you never know what Vykin is going to provide for the vets.”

The Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program assists about 70 vets every year by offering employment assistance and other services. But the luncheon, Wilson says, is just to give back a little something extra.

“We go home and we have a nice home and we have family. A lot of these guys don’t have homes, they don’t have families, they don’t have anybody in the community. So, this is something that we just like to do to try to assist them during this time of year – not only during this time of year, but throughout the year.”

Because many homeless veterans don’t have access to transportation, volunteers pooled various resources to make sure the participants in the reintegration program were able to make it.

“…[HART], some of the other organizations are providing them with their own transportation. We’ve done bus tickets and also, we brought some of the vets out ourselves.”

But the luncheon doesn’t just target homeless vets. People like Tara Perkins, a U.S. Navy Veteran, have climbed their way out of jobless situations and into meaningful employment by utilizing county resources.

“It gave me an opportunity to feel like I was in a place and there was a need for me.”

Perkins now does administrative work at the VA Hospital in Tampa. She got the job after meeting with a specialist in the reintegration program.

“Making the transition from the military to the civilian sector is different. When you’re in the military, you always know where your next step is going to be because they’re going to tell you, ‘ok, you’re done here and it’s time to move on and we’re going to send you here.’ When you’re in the civilian world you have to kind of figure it out on your own. You don’t have that person to say, ‘you’re going to go here now and you’re going to do this.’ So, it gave me a direction – set a path for me.”

But for the hundreds of veterans in the Tampa Bay area who haven’t been able to make that transition, Perkins has one message.

“There are programs that are out there for people – for veterans such as myself and them as well. Don’t give up. Use all the resources that are there. There are definitely lots and lots of resources for us veterans, so don’t give up.”

Among other organizations offering assistance to veterans looking for housing are the Hillsborough County Department of Veterans Affairs and the Hillsborough County Homeless Coalition.

You can also get help by calling 813-276-2976, ext. 55842.

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