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By Michael P. Mauer

VFW District 29 PAO

Members of Knights of Columbus West Jefferson Hills Council 11887 and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 914 Intrepid of West Mifflin have worked together this holiday season to provide local homeless veterans with necessities needed to make their lives more comfortable.  The two organizations raised more than $2,000 to assemble and distribute duffel bags packed with warm clothes and other comfort items.

 

VFW K of C Duffel
Members of Knights of Columbus West Jefferson Hills Council 11887 and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 914 Intrepid of West Mifflin show one of the duffel bags they’ve gathered to be given to homeless veterans over this holiday season. Pictured from left to right in the foreground are Warren Dryer of Triumph of the Holy Cross Parish, Jefferson Hills, Brandon Fulmer, K. of C. knight, Joe Wood, K. of C. deputy grand knight and Gene Staudt, VFW Post 914 chaplain. Also pictured are Triumph of the Holy Cross Parish members and K. of C. knights Charles Ejzak and Jerry Maxa. (Photo by Earl Frentzel)

“We’re really glad to be partnering with other benevolent groups that are eager to help our fellow veterans,” said Gene Staudt, VFW Post 914 chaplain.  “Too often, the least fortunate are overlooked during these cold winter months.  We’re hoping to provide some of the things needed that’ll help make their lives better.”

According to Staudt, each duffel bag costs about $400 to $500 to assemble, and contains items like warm clothes, a tarp, a parka, long johns, boots, hygiene articles and a flashlight.  The bags are assembled for both male and female veterans, and are equipped with a lock and key.

Staudt said Ralph Graeser, Council 11887 K. of C. financial secretary, and Earl Frentzel, Council 11887 K. of C. grand knight, were both instrumental in helping get the project started locally.

“This was something we heard other knights were doing in other parts of the country, and we wanted to bring it here,” said Staudt.  “The response we’ve received from members of Triumph of the Holy Cross Parish and the VFW has been wonderful.”

Donations for the project were made by VFW District 29, VFW Post 914, K. of C. Council 11887, Triumph of the Holy Cross Parish, Jefferson Hills, as well as private individuals.  The duffel bags will be distributed by the Veterans Leadership Program of Western PA.

The duffel bags will help area veterans facing the cold weather on the streets this winter.  According to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, there are approximately 760,000 veterans in Pennsylvania.  Of this number, nearly 1,000 are classified as homeless.  About 10 percent of those homeless are in Allegheny County.

“Whatever the reasons, why they are homeless is not important to us,” said Staudt, a Vietnam veteran who was awarded the Bronze Star.  “At one time or another, all of them wore our nation’s uniform, and nobody deserves to be living outside in the cold without any protection.”

Currently, seven duffel bags are ready for veterans, but Staudt said that since a network is now in place, K. of C. Council 11887 is hoping the program will grow.

“This is our first year doing this, and the help we’ve received from the VFW and other people has been fantastic,” said Staudt.  “We’re hoping it is an activity we’ll be able to expand to help all of the homeless in our area – not just veterans.”

For more information about the duffel bag program, or to donate, contact Ralph Graeser, K. of C. financial secretary, at: r.graeser@verizon.net.

(Michael P. Mauer served as an Army photojournalist during Operation Desert Storm.  He was awarded the Joint Service Commendation Medal by Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf for his actions during the war, and is a life member of VFW Post 914 Intrepid, West Mifflin.)

 

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