Twelve Red Cross volunteers stood in a small room filled with boxes, sweatshirts and pants, clean wipes, deodorant, lotion, shampoo, flip-flops, toothpaste and brushes, and hundreds of compressed rucksacks.
The mission: fill over 1,000 rucksacks for the yearly “Stand Down for Homeless Veterans,” held by the local Veterans Affairs office. They had already filled 214 bags at an earlier packing party.
Overseeing the operation were the energetic volunteers of the Pikes Peak (Colo.) Chapter of the Red Cross, who were managing, as one observed, “a fun, industrious and innovative assembly line.”
Britt Bloom, the day’s team lead, explained that they were assembling the rucksacks for wounded, homeless and struggling veterans. She was excited about their job and said, “Once I worked to recruit volunteers. Now I am one, and I love it.”
Asked why he was volunteering for this project, Jon Ainsworth, a retired Air Force veteran, said, “I’m interested in our service men and women, and I like to give back.” Maria Hernandez, a disabled veteran and new to the Red Cross, explained, ”I’m a student now and I want to get involved with my community.”
While they each had a different way of expressing it, they were all there to make sure they helped veterans who sacrificed for their country and now need a hand up.
The Stand Down is a national event and opportunity for homeless and struggling veterans to come to a local site and receive help from many different community organizations. The Pikes Peak Chapter received a grant through Red Cross national headquarters’ Service to the Armed Forces division to assemble 500 rucksacks. The funds were part of a Defense Department grant given to the Red Cross.
Jaici Murcia, the Pikes Peak Chapter Director of Volunteers and Emergency Services, and a veteran herself, was quick to point out that “through other donations and help from our local Wal-Mart, the chapter was able to fill 1000 rucksacks. It is estimated there are between 1,000 and 1,500 homeless veterans in our area. These Rescue Rucksacks will provide our veterans with everyday necessities, something many of us take for granted.”