Making a Difference: Holiday stockings made for homeless veterans in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania has the fourth largest population of veterans in the U.S. and sadly, many become homeless when they return home.
In this week's making a difference, an Indiana County woman's idea to spread Christmas cheer to homeless veterans, after being homeless herself, just keeps growing and she hopes more people will want to help.
What's supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year can be hard for veterans returning home.
Many end up homeless, even here in Pennsylvania.
It's Kristin Squires' Christmas wish to change that.
She's brightening their holidays with stockings filled with donated items that can be taken for granted, like tooth paste, shampoo, gloves, socks, and gift cards.
She wanted to do this because she knows what it's like to have nowhere to live.
“A few years ago I actually found myself, due to a strange series of events, homeless and living out of my car in Walmart’s parking lot and sleeping on friends’ couches," Squires said.
Squires is chapter captain for the nonprofit organization Team Red, White and Blue Indiana PA Chapter.
Now she’s working two jobs and in is school at Indiana University Pennsylvania and she wanted to give back, so she started the homeless heroes stocking project last year.
The stockings are put together for the Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania, which is an organization in Pittsburgh that helps nearly 2,800 homeless veterans annually.
They will go from Squires’ basement into veterans' hands in 20 counties.
“Just to see the joy on the guys faces and the females faces whenever we gave the stockings out to local homeless veterans was just so inspiring so I knew we had to do it again,” Squires said.
Nathan Babyak works for the Veterans Leadership Program as the community engagement and public affairs specialist. He joined the Marine Corps right after high school. He had a smooth transition when he returned home but he said transitioning to civilian life can be difficult for many and this project really lifts veterans’ spirits during the holidays.
A lot of our veterans are walking off the street so to be handed one of these stockings with a pair of gloves, socks and a gift card to get a warm meal.. It's amazing what this does for someones psyche,” Babyak said.
Babyak said they do all they can to help those who served our country through their services that help them find a place to live and get a job.
“It’s very hard for me to see. We are firm believers nobody should ever be homeless, let alone anyone that has served our country and we don't want to give the impression that they have been forgotten about or their service didn't mean anything, it certainly did,” Babyak said.
With the help of different groups and businesses, including Rho Tau Chi military fraternity at IUP, they've packed 1,188 stockings so far.
“Our veterans are going to lose their minds, they love this!” Babyak said.
The goal is to give 2,500 of them with a personal touch.
“Every stocking actually has a note inside of it that was put in there by the person that stuffed it to let them know they are not forgotten, they are appreciated, thank them for their service,” Squires said.
Kristin hopes spreading holiday cheer will be the gift that brings veterans a step closer to having a roof over their heads and much more.
“We want to say hey, this is just the beginning, this stocking right here is a jumping off point.. This isn't hey, go back to living under the bridge, this is welcome back to the community, this is a small token to thank you and now let’s get back to work,” Babyak said.
The stockings will be brought to veterans in shelters and camps, including in Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Centre, Clearfield, Huntingdon, and Somerset counties.
Veterans can also grab one at the veteran leadership program's Pittsburgh location and at their office in Johnstown on Goucher Street.
You can donate supplies for the stockings until December 31st.
Monetary donations can be made through PayPal to VLPHomelessheroes@gmail.com that will go solely to the stocking project.
Supplies for the stockings can be be dropped off at the IUP Police Department.
Donations to go to Veteran Leadership Program’s general fund can be made at www.NeverForgetVets.org.
You can learn more about VLP at https://www.facebook.com/VeteransLeadershipProgram/.
and more about TRWB at https://www.facebook.com/TeamRWBIndianaPA/.