Milwaukee VA Medical Center
Home of the Brave offers clothing, caring, smiles
With winter having made an early arrival in southeastern Wisconsin, the timing for hand-knit blankets, stocking caps and other assorted clothing items couldn’t have been better.
National sponsors came together with local organizations on Friday to offer Veterans at the Milwaukee VA table after table piled with much-needed donated items at no charge as part of the annual Home of the Brave campaign.
“Instead of just celebrating Veterans Day on just Veterans Day, we try to spread it out,” said Jessica Serdynski, chief of Voluntary Service at the Milwaukee VA. “We’ve had this event for about five years. It’s supported by all these groups. We’ve kind of expanded this event here locally. Because we have so much interest in the community doing stuff for Veterans, we bring in other groups.”
Home of the Brave, founded in 2012, partners with Veterans Affairs Voluntary Service (VAVS), VA Homeless Program, non-profit partner Soldiers’ Angels, and corporate partner employees to honor Veterans at VA medical facilities.
Local organizations Heartland Home Health and Hospice and three Catholic churches from Sheboygan, St. Dominic, St. Clement, and Holy Name, partnered with local employees from national corporate partners Hewlett-Packard, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Perspecta, and HALO Branded Solutions to staff the event and hand out items to the continuous line of appreciative Veterans that wound its way through the Matousek Auditorium. VA employees who are also are Veterans were invited to participate.
Nyande Josiah, a 32-year-old Army Veteran who currently is in the Reserves, was at the VA with her mother, who was getting treatment, when she heard the announcement about the event. Her mother served 25 years in the Army and Reserves, Josiah said.
“I think it’s nice,” said Josiah, a third-generation Army member whose grandfather served in World War II. “They have a nice selection of different things you might need during the winter. Socks are always nice, the scarves. I personally enjoyed the lap blankets that they had.”
Several volunteers from the combined Catholic parishes from Sheboygan manned the tables stacked with underwear, socks, T-shirts, hand-knit blankets and more. The process of collecting the donated items had a unique name, said Judy Straus, who volunteers on the Human Concerns Committee at St. Dominic.
“It was called Undie Sunday,” Straus laughed. “The other two churches were new this year and they couldn’t quite comprehend this yet. We hang the underwear and bras on a wash line in the back of church and put out barrels with patriotic décor. This year we did the women’s, also.”
“Our quilting ladies donate lap quilts,” she said. “These other blankets are from other places, but from ours, it’s all handmade.”
Straus said the reason they were involved was simple, “To give back to our Veterans and show that we appreciate them."
Diana Andrews, manager of business development at Heartland Home Health and Hospice, handed out tote bags for Veterans to fill with clothing. Her father, a Navy Veteran, was on hand to help hand out the items.
“It just really is quite fulfilling for us to give to so many folks that we care for, that have given so much,” Andrews said. “So, when we have that opportunity to give back to them, they’re always so grateful here.”
John Gratz, a 66-year-old Marine Corps Veteran, also happened to be in for an appointment when he heard about the event.
“It’s a beautiful thing,” said Gratz, who stopped at the end of the line for coffee and cake provided by the American Legion Auxiliary. “Look at everybody putting a smile on their face.”