Restoring Dignity: Tennessee Chapter 1073’s Duffel Bags For The Homeless
BY ROBERT RUSSELL
The members of Morristown, Tennessee, Chapter 1073 know they can’t solve the problem of homelessness among veterans, but they have devised a way to help the homeless retain some of their dignity. Chapter members reasoned that if they could help homeless veterans simplify their personal lives, it could make a difference in how they live.
The chapter gives duffel bags containing personal hygiene items and clothing to local homeless veterans and to those passing through. Chapter members designed the duffel bags, then commissioned Volunteer Blind Industries, a local nonprofit, to make them. The bags are one foot wide and two feet tall with drawstrings and comfortable shoulder straps.
The local Central Services and Volunteers of America pack each duffel bag with soap, a wash cloth, shampoo, a comb, a toothbrush and toothpaste, tissues, nail clippers, and a razor. Then the duffel bags are delivered to Chapter 1073.
At the end of each monthly chapter meeting, Chapter 1073 members take duffel bags home. They stuff the bags with socks, underwear, caps, ponchos, and clean second-hand clothing including pants, shirts, and jackets. Sometimes members include other personal items. The clothing size is marked on each bag. Completed bags are brought to the next chapter meeting ready for delivery.
Some of the duffel bags are distributed at the Ministerial Association Temporary Shelter, which serves the homeless; others are taken to the local VA clinic, where many chapter members serve as volunteers. Duffel bags are also distributed by the officers of Hamblen County Sheriff Esco Jarnagan, a chapter member. Because local law enforcement personnel are among the first to encounter the homeless, each patrol car carries a duffel bag.
In an earlier effort, the chapter set up a volunteer position of quartermaster to work with the treasurer in fund-raising and inventory. By selling chapter patches, silk-screened t-shirts, caps, military insignia, and license plates, the Quartermaster’s Fund grew so much that the chapter was able to buy a utility trailer to transport and house chapter paraphernalia.
Chapter members wanted something that would catch the eye and deliver a specific message: VVA cares about our community. The upper part of the trailer vividly depicts some of the organization’s issues and concerns. Below the beltline are ads for local businesses.
The completed trailer has eye-catching graphics and a fantastic sound system. And it produces revenue. The trailer has participated in many county parades and functions.
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