On Veterans Day a couple of weeks ago, many folks thanked our military veterans for their service in defending our constitution.

Veteran at Yountville enjoys a meal outdoors.
Veteran at Yountville Home enjoys a meal outdoors.

COVID-19 restrictions prevented the firm handshakes and warm hugs that once carried the day, and gave way to drive-by parades, salutes from afar, and virtual greetings. Still, the sentiments were genuine, heartfelt, and very much welcomed.

So what are our communities doing now that Thanksgiving and the holiday season are upon us? Why, thanking them again, of course, by offering acts of kindness that will be more important than ever with visitation restrictions still in place.

At each of the eight homes, local service clubs stage events throughout the year to benefit the veterans. Likewise, some pay it forward-thinking individuals also step up to do big things.

“The generosity people have for our veterans never ceases to amaze me,” said CalVet Secretary Vito Imbasciani MD. “Nor am I ever surprised by their resourcefulness during this pandemic. We, at CalVet, truly thank them all for showing gratitude toward our veterans year in and year out, and especially during the Holiday season.”

At the Veterans Homes of California-Barstow, the veterans and residents will enjoy a special New Year’s Day dinner courtesy of Barbara Ormsby, whose father once lived at the home. As in previous years, Ormsby will donate $1,200 toward the meal, as well as providing lunch for staff and a big holiday wreath to boost spirits.

A veteran at Yountville enjoys a meal outdoors.
Holiday wreath at Barstow Veterans Home.

By then, the veterans and residents will have opened the hundreds of holiday cards that began arriving after a Veterans Day effort to collect them: more than 300 so far, with more arriving.

Two women in Ventura – Trisha Koontz and Judy Core – independently perform labors of love for the veterans. Koontz spearheads the collection and delivery of “Secret Santa” gifts and gift cards, while Core assembles goody bags to sweeten up the holidays at the Veterans Home of California-Ventura. Another, Marianne Allen, volunteers her time and talents to mend the residents’ clothing items.

At the Veterans Home of California-Redding, the veterans tell the community what they would like in the form of a holiday wish list, and the community responds. The “wish list” includes beer and sodas, postage stamps, pens, word and board games, newspaper subscriptions and just about anything else that they can use at the Home. COVID-19 restrictions don’t prohibit, but certainly discourage the veterans from leaving the facility any more than necessary. Consequently, what might seem trivial to others are vital to the vets.

Resident of Chula Vista Home displays card of thanks from well-wisher.
Resident of Chula Vista Home displays card of thanks from well-wisher.

At the Veterans Home of California-Chula Vista, the Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War, Nancy Hanks Lincoln (Abraham Lincoln’s mom), Tent 5, conduct an annual socks drive. Before COVID-19, they collected and delivered more than 300 pair of socks to veterans and spouses. This year, they plan to purchase and mail them to the Home instead.

The veterans at the Veterans Home of California-West Los Angeles Home receive packages from Operation Gratitude containing hand-written cards, prepackaged candles and personal hygiene items. LA Works and Activision Games provide handmade Christmas stockings containing snacks and a puzzle or crossword book. This year, Big Sunday, a volunteer public service non-profit, is donating a 14-foot Christmas tree valued at over $1,200.

Veteran at Yountville on a virtual visit.
Veteran at Yountville on a virtual visit.

At the Veterans Home of California-Yountville, “Gwen’s Closet” is filling up with personal items – toiletries, clothing, books, and more – which veterans can pick up for free. The shop’s name honors Gwen Robinson, who worked in the Home’s volunteer services department for 12 years. Robinson passed away in July due to COVID-19. The community responded to the effort by donating items and gift cards, with the local Veterans of Foreign Wars, AMVETS and American Legion posts helping set up the shop.

For the Veterans Home of California-Lancaster, the Palmdale American Legion and Auxiliary will do what they do every year on Thanksgiving: Donate enough turkeys and hams to feed all of the veterans, residents, and the entire staff.

Finally, the Veterans Home of California-Fresno enjoys great relationships with local organizations and individuals who cherish the Home’s veterans.

The thanks veterans received on Veterans Day simply continues to build as the holiday season arrives.

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