There are numerous ways to help veterans when they return to the United States as civilians, and a weekend event highlights two different programs that help with re-acclimation from completely different angles.
Meals on Wheels and Rock For Vets present the Help Feed a Vet Variety Show from noon to 5 p.m., Saturday, June 29, at the Ernest Borgnine Theatre, 855 Elm St. Tickets cost $25, with money going toward meals and a music program to help veterans adjust back to civilian life.
“Basically, what we were looking to do was raise funds to support the meal program for low income veterans,” said Bill Cruikshank, Meals on Wheels operations director. “We get a lot of referrals from the VA Hospital of veterans coming out of there that need meals, and a lot of them can’t afford it.”
Cruikshank said the local Meals on Wheels serves about 200-350 clients a day, with a large portion being veterans or the spouses and widows of veterans.
He said a recent example involved a case manager calling his office. There was a veteran who was rapidly losing weight on top of dealing with a spinal cord injury that left him with very little mobility.
“He was basically living off of cottage cheese and pineapple and hadn’t eaten a hot meal in sixth months,” Cruikshank said.
About a year later after Meals on Wheels stepped in and began delivering meals, he was back to his proper weight. The program also tries to refer veterans to other services that may help them.
On the other end of the Help Feed a Vet Variety Show, there is the Rock For Vets group run by director Frank McIlquham. About 50 veterans participate in the program, and the group has had more than 40 performances around the area since 2010.
“It’s giving an opportunity to a veteran, who may not have musical ability, a chance to have music in their lives,” McIlquham said. “It really makes a veteran come out of his or her shell.”
The rock group includes electric and acoustic guitars, bass, drums, various percussion instruments and a number of lead and backup vocalists. They know how to play more than 50 songs.
“We want to get into the mind of a vet and to help with their home life and adjustments,” McIlquham said. “It builds up their self confidence and self esteem. When they are all together on stage at one time it is a very rewarding thing to see.
“It’s all about teamwork. When they’re in the service they were part of a team. Outside they become an individual. I’m bringing them back into a team where they can flourish in that environment.”
The event will include four gourmet trucks, a silent auction and a raffle. Music performances will begin at 2 p.m. Musicians will include the Rock For Vets Band, Boxcar 7, Pin Up Doll Platoon, The Windy Ridge Bluegrass Band and Freddie Davis Jr. (performed with The Platters, The Drifters and Hank Ballard’s The Midnighters).
“I will tell you that by the end of the night (last year) people came up to me saying it was the best three hours they had spent in years — and this is coming from people who come to these types of events quite often,” Cruikshank said.
Both programs can be donated to individually (www.mowlb.org), and for more information on the show, visit www.rockforvets.net. Anyone who cannot attend, but wants to contribute, is encouraged to donate $25 for a veteran to attend the concert.