The VA Domiciliary Gift Shop, sponsored by The American Legion Department of Alaska Auxiliary, was held Dec. 1. Around the 1st of November VA, VA Domiciliary, aftercare programs and even sometimes veterans on the waiting list for homeless veterans are given a form to fill out on each of their immediate family members, the age and sex. They are allowed one gift per name, and there has never been a limit on how many names they can shop for, as long as it is immediate family. One veteran even asked to have something for his cat, as he has no kids. The forms are turned in and sent to the chairman of the gift shop.
The chairman of the gift shop starts shopping on Thanksgiving night, and continues to shop through the week to make sure to get the best gifts and items for the veterans to shop. They allow for extra gifts as there are always new admits at the Dom and they want to make sure no one gets missed. Every year Fred Meyer has special discounts and coupons for its employees. They are huge supporters of the gift shop and always give the chairman the same coupons to use for discounts so that we can get more gifts to go around. The chairman lets them know what day she will be there, as they help her with checkout and make sure she gets all the discounts.
This year 57 veterans shopped for gifts, helped by 31 volunteers from all over the state – including The American Legion, the Sons of The American Legion, and the American Legion Auxiliary and Juniors, along with many from the VA: Alex Spector, director; Dr. Cynthia Jo, chief of staff at the VA; Judy Thomson, head of volunteer services; Marsha Hoffman-Devoe, public relations; and many others there to make this a big success.
There are volunteers in different areas: gift wrapping, Christmas cards, package-wrapping for shipping, and personal shoppers. The shoppers walk around with the veteran and help them pick out gifts for their family, take them to get it gift-wrapped, and then stay with them while waiting to have it boxed up and ready for shipping.
The American Legion Auxiliary Jack Henry Unit 1 always bakes cookies and breads and sets up coffee, hot water for tea, hot chocolate and apple cider for the veterans to enjoy while there. Any veteran can come in and enjoy all the festivities even if they are not shopping.
This year Christmas stockings filled with needed hygiene items were given out to the veterans. A table was also set up with candy and fruit.
The gift shop chairman works very hard to make things go as smoothly as possible. Instead of taking the packages to the post office and standing there for hours, she gets a mailing company – this year it was Alaska Laser – to donate their time (25 hours this year) to come on Saturday and pick up the packages. They take them back to their location, and on Monday they process and meter the packages, then take them to the post office to be mailed. The only thing that is paid for is the postage itself. We are grateful to the many volunteers of hours and donations who go into making this a huge success.
The veterans are always so thankful, and it is an honor for me to help with this program every year.
Click here (http://www.legion.org/fodpal/photos/213256/department-alaska-va-gift-shop) for a photo album of the event.