The 10th annual Homeless Veterans Awareness Campaign looks to have raised more than $60,000 for homeless veterans and former service members in distress, which would once again break the group’s record for greatest amount collected ever.

The collections came in part from live encampment locations setup around Lebanon Friday, Nov. 11, and Saturday, Nov. 12, with 32 hours of rain, wind, and cold weather endured in total. Participants including veterans, family members, friends, and other supporters were temporarily homeless as they raised awareness (and money) for veterans in need.

$31,311.04 was raised last weekend despite the sopping wet conditions.

During an interview at the 9th Street encampment last Friday, self-described “band director” and VFW Post 23 campaign chairman Bill Meiser said that campaign is the work of so many different people, from so many different walks of life, all coming together to support a multitude of veterans through multiple organizations.

With Lebanon a huge hub for veterans because of the VA, the safety net is critical to help veterans who may be suffering from mental health, PTSD, trauma, or chemical/other dependencies get the care they need, when sometimes they might not realize they need care themselves.

Last year, the campaign raised $60,138.81. Meiser, a veteran himself, said that the lion’s share of that, 92%, went directly to homeless veterans and programs.

This year, between bucket contributions and pre-campaign donations, more than $63,000 is projected to have been raised.

The organization still has to collect jars and will receive checks through December. The overall total will be out around the end of the year, and the public’s help in securing this milestone is still needed.

According to a handout shared by Meiser, last year that funding went towards:

  • $10,000 for Direct Veteran Housing Assistance Fund
  • $10,000 for Direct Veteran Furnishing Request Fund
  • $8,000 for Bethesda Mission
  • $5,500 for The Rober M. Jackson Veterans Center
  • $4,500 for the YWCA of Greater Harrisburg’s Homeless Veteran Stand Down Fund
  • $4,000 for the Lebanon Rescue Mission
  • $3,500 for Lebanon Valley Harvest Ministries
  • $2,500 for Coalition to End Homelessness, Community Health Council
  • $2,500 for VFW Department of PA Homeless Veterans Fund
  • $2,500 for VFW District 18 Homeless Veteran Fund
  • $2,000 for Lebanon County Christian Ministries

Amongst the biggest supporters headed into this year’s campaign weekend – 717 Outlaws, Quality Patient Centered Service LLC, Dauphin Middle Paxton Home Association, Shays Vending, Members of the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials, VFW Post 1620, and Fraternal Order Eagles Aerie 472. Altogether, the pre-campaign appears to have raised more than $30,000 in commitments before the buckets were even out, a pivotal amount in this year’s record-breaking effort.

LebTown spoke with a few volunteers while at the 9th and Cumberland streets encampment on Friday.

Athena Gjerde was on the northeast corner, undaunted by Tropical Storm Nicole in her fifth year volunteering for the 32-hour campaign.

Gjerde, a PA survivor outreach services support coordinator who supports Gold Star families, said that if there’s even a little bit we can do to show that, “Hey, there is support, there is help” for veterans, we have an obligation to do it. “There are things that (veterans) have seen that I’ll never see in a lifetime,” said Gjerde.

“At the minimum, this is the least I can do.”

As far as public reaction, Gejerde said that she was hearing a lot of, “You’re crazy to stand here in the rain!” But also lots of, “Thank you for what you do.” (“Don’t thank me, thank them,” was Gjerde’s response, she said.)

And as one person observed to Gjerde, “This must be really important.” Gjerde said her response was simply, “Absolutely.”

Gjerde said that an advantage of the resources the Homeless Veterans Awareness Campaign funds is that they can be deployed quickly when there’s a need, whereas Veterans Affairs programs and other long-term resources can take more time to coordinate.

Athena Gjerde stands next to friend and veteran Kyle on Friday, Nov. 11, as part of the 10th annual Homeless Veterans Awareness Campaign.

Veteran Lynn Kendig echoed those feelings. LebTown caught up with Kendig just in front of the municipal lot on Cumberland Street, where he said so far that morning he’d encountered two ladies overwhelmed by a desire to give despite being strapped for cash.

“At least they care,” said Kendig, noting that a few drivers chose to avoid eye contact as they passed by.

Kendig, who was in the military for nine years, said that he heard about the Homeless Veterans Awareness Campaign from a colleague and immediately wanted to get involved.

“I think our homeless vets need a little more support.”

Lynn Kendig collects a donation during the Homeless Veterans Awareness Campaign on Friday, Nov. 11, on Cumberland Street in Lebanon.

Meiser said that there can be a delay between needing and receiving housing, and housing assistance funds generated through the campaign pay for moving kits and temporary housing that bridge the veteran into a more permanent setup.

A big part of this effort is coordinating with the VA, the YWCA, and other organizations to make sure that veterans are supported as they navigate between a social services system which can be complex and overwhelming, especially to an individual already suffering from other conditions which may make the care-seeking process even more arduous.

David Gyger, Senior Vice Commander of the VFW Department of Pennsylvania, happened to be visiting the campaign while LebTown was there Saturday. Gyger and Meiser are also Homeless Veterans Co-Chairman for the department. “I think this is the best one we have in the state,” said Gyger of the Homeless Veterans Awareness Campaign in Lebanon.

Gyger noted that the effort grew from modest beginnings, with an early focus on socks and gloves and getting bigger and bigger. The organization can now fill in gaps to make sure veterans get what they deserve and were promised, said Gyger, who noted that he hopes the public supports the effort.

Volunteers during the 10th annual Homeless Veterans Awareness Campaign in Lebanon on Saturday, Nov. 11.

For more information, including ways to donate online, follow the Homeless Veterans’ Awareness Campaign on Facebook.

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