An American Legion Operation Comfort Warriors (OCW) grant delivered Nov. 17 was a first for the recipient and for one of the presenters.
The $10,000 OCW grant was presented to the VA St. Louis Health Care System - Jefferson Barracks Division by the help of National Commander Denise H. Rohan. The OCW presentation coincided with her visit to the Department of Missouri.
“It’s amazing to think of the difference that OCW can make in not just one person’s life but the whole family’s life,” Rohan said during the OCW presentation at the Voluntary Service Office. “It is Thanksgiving time and it is time for us to take care of our families and OCW is taking care of our families all year long. We are always there ready to help out our veterans who need extra comfort. OCW is a great program.”
St. Louis VA Deputy Director Desmond J. McMullan accepted the donation from both Rohan and past Missouri National Executive Committeeman Art Wilson. Other Legion leadership in attendance included Department of Missouri Adjutant Lowry Finley-Jackson.
“On behalf of the medical center director and the entire St. Louis team, we thank everyone here who put together this great, great opportunity to serve our veterans,” McMullan said.
Of the $10,000 grant, $5,000 of it went toward the purchase of canteen booklets that will be distributed to the five VA medical centers in Missouri. These canteen booklets help patients in need purchase food or other health care items during their stay.
“Canteen books provide patients comfort so if they don’t have cash in their pockets they don’t feel lost,” said Department of Missouri Service Officer Tracy Vawter. “And sometimes the canteen booklets will be used as a reward for patients on a lockdown ward; it’s sort of a therapeutic reinforcement for them. OCW is a very positive program.”
The other part of the grant went toward the purchase of needed items identified by the St. Louis VA. Several Legionnaires in the 10th District helped shop for these items which include 30 health and comfort kits that contain toiletries along with magazines, puzzle books and playing card decks; two 60-inch flat screen televisions for a recreation and rehabilitation hall; three 32-inch televisions for a mental health and drug abuse clinic; and shower shoes, winter gloves and hats, jeans, sweatpants and sweatshirts for both men and women, reading glasses and T-shirts for the Jefferson Barracks Domiciliary Residential Rehabilitation Treatment Program for homeless veterans.
“It is really helpful to have warm clothing because a lot of time (the veterans) come in with just the clothes on their backs,” said Domiciliary Program Manager Erin McInerney-Ernst. “This (OCW donation) is really appreciated and it will be well used. This is imperative for us.”
The OCW grant also purchased 20 gift cards to help veterans who graduate from the domiciliary program purchase shoes for their new job. These gift cards are to a nearby Shoe Carnival as a result of a relationship that was formed between the store and a Legionnaire many years ago.
The American Legion shoe program at Jefferson Barracks began in the 1990s by Harrison Ochs, a World War II veteran, longtime Legionnaire and former service officer and VA volunteer who moved to Mississippi earlier this year. The Legion’s 10th District purchases the gift cards for $40 apiece, but they have a value of $55 and up depending on the specific shoes needed for the veteran's new job. The VA would contact Ochs weekly when a veteran graduated from the domiciliary program, and he would pick up the veteran and take them to the Shoe Carnival. Now, Legion Service Officer Thom White has stepped up to make sure the program continues and that a service officer always takes the veteran shopping.
A remarkable 2,500 veterans have been a recipient of the shoe program.
“I just want to say thank you so much. I have had the distinct pleasure of working with so many of your volunteers,” said St. Louis VA Public Affairs Manager Marcena Gunter to Rohan during the OCW presentation. “(Ochs) made such an impact on me and all of the patients and veterans, particularly the spinal cord unit (he solicited help of his fellow Legionnaires to purchase new televisions) and in our DOM. He is just one of the examples of your go-getters – the kind of people that you have in your organization that make things happen here at the facility level.
“Certainly the heart of our medical center is the caring and sharing that comes from the volunteers that you bring forth to us. So thank you so much. Thank you for this wonderful donation today and for the things that you do all the time with us.”