On Saturday, Oct 14, 2023 the representatives of six Rotary clubs delivered needed supplies to the homeless veterans living at Lyons VA Administration, building 53, in Lyons, NJ. This Rotary program was started by Westfield Rotarian Burim Regjaj, and has been running for 4 years. The program is designed to help homeless military veterans, and five other Rotary clubs have joined the effort.

Rotary International President Gordon McInally has made addressing mental health a priority for Rotary Clubs this year. Past District Governor Dr. Michael Hart feels that as a society we have an obligation to take care of our veterans whose health has been damaged by their service. These men and women put their lives at risk to protect our freedom. More than that, they put their health at risk, and now may be damaged mentally with PTSD.

Eighteen (18) American military veterans commit suicide every day. That’s 6,570 suicides per year. More than four times as many than we lost in all the wars since September 11th, 2001.  In that time period, the US has lost 7,057 soldiers fighting wars; but 30,177 soldiers to suicide.

Veterans who are damaged with PTSD may turn to drugs and/or alcohol, lose their jobs, then their house, their family, and everything, until they hit rock bottom. Some commit suicide at this point. The VA will dry them out, help them recover, provide psychological counselling, provide help with designing a resume, and provide career counselling. The VA Administration provides the veterans with a bed and meals for 9 months, but then they are either moved to low-cost long-term housing, or just put out of the hospital, back onto the street.

Right now, there are 71 veterans living at the Lyons VA Building 53, including 6 women, and another 162 veterans living at Valley Brook Village next door. Valley Brook Village is basically a dormitory for low- cost, long -term housing.

 Since the hospital does not provide the veterans with most clothing or toiletries, Rotary fills the gap. The most requested item is socks. Rotary provides underwear, socks, long underwear, T shirts, boots, winter coats, hats, gloves, scarves, razors, shaving cream, toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, deodorant, a “Thank You for Your Service” card from the Ronkonkoma, Long Island Rotary Club, and a rugged duffle bag to keep everything in.

Rotarians delivered 71 duffle bags to the veterans on Saturday. They plan to deliver Bomber jackets at the end of October, pillows and pillowcases in November, and Winter coats in December.

At the Holiday time, they plan to distribute pajamas, and winter hats, gloves and scarves.

An important part of the project is to talk to the veterans as we are giving out the supplies, to let them know that someone cares about them, and thank them for their service, to help instill hope.

The consortium of six Rotary clubs purchases the supplies and clothing from a charity on Long Island called General Needs, Inc. which buys the materials wholesale. This 501c3 was started by Rotarians Lonnie and Susan Sherman, who are members of the Ronkonkoma Rotary Club, and are seen in the photos. They drive 2 hours each way from Long Island to Lyons, NJ to deliver the supplies which the New Jersey Rotarians purchase.

Every Wednesday special education students from Commack High School, Long Island, volunteer at the General Needs, Inc. storage facility to help assemble the duffle bags. The kids are learning skills, and helping the veterans at the same time.

In December, the Rotarians host a Holiday party and give out wrapped gift boxes which include hats, gloves and scarves. High School students wrap the presents, and elementary school students make holiday cards

This is such a wonderful project that the Rotary Club of Westfield has been joined by five other New Jersey Rotary clubs: Hillsborough; Somerset Hills (previously Bernardsville); Madison; Morristown; & Watchung. We pool our funds in the Rotary District 7475 Foundation.

The Rotary Club of Westfield meets the first three Tuesdays of each month for lunch at noon, at Limani Seafood Grill on North Ave. Guests are always welcome. For information check out the website www.westfieldrotary.com  or contact club secretary Dr. D. Michael Hart by email at drmhart@yahoo.com


Photo: left to right: Lonnie Sherman, Susan Sherman, Burim Regjaj, Past District Governor Dr. D. Michael Hart. They are displaying some of the 71 duffle bags which were delivered