RUMFORD — At least 850 Maine veterans are currently homeless, a figure Tricia Thurston of the Rumford American Legion Post 24 Auxiliary found shocking.
The auxiliary president and veteran said she saw those figures from the Veterans Administration in Togus and decided her organization should get involved to outfit homeless veterans who move into transitional housing. Last week, the auxiliary began gathering items for Housewarming Baskets.
“We're here to support all veterans in any way we can,” she said Wednesday afternoon from the Legion Hall on Congress Street.
One of the items needed for anyone moving into a new home is a garbage can, so that is the receptacle for all the other items that are donated.
Items needed include brooms and dustpans, buckets, shower curtains, dishpans, cleaners, cloth and paper towels, toilet paper, toothpaste, hand soap, and a multitude of other items every home has on hand. In addition, each Housewarming Basket should have a telephone calling card, gas card so vets can get to medical appointments, gift card for food and shoes, and an electric razor.
“We don't want to see them go into a home without these things,” Thurston said.
The Augusta VA hopes to find transitional homes for about 70 homeless veterans each year, according to an e-mail from state auxiliary President Nancy True.
If contributors prefer, they can donate cash so auxiliary members can buy the items needed for each basket, Thurston said.
Anyone from the community may donate to the Housewarming Baskets by stopping by the Legion Hall and dropping off items. Or they may send a check to the Post No. 24 American Legion Auxiliary at 184 Congress St., Rumford, ME 04276. For a more complete listing of needs, people may call Thurston at 357-3289.
The Housewarming Baskets is the most recent effort to support veterans. The local auxiliary also has an ongoing program to send periodic packages to the 20 or so local soldiers who are serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, known as Comforts from Home.
A table in the legion hall is set up to accept things such as Slim Jims, Pop-Tarts and other snacks, writing paper, other nonperishable food items, and toiletries. Every so often, packages are sent to the local soldiers.
During the Christmas season, dozens of cookies were baked and comfort shawls knitted or crocheted and sent to soldiers in the two Middle East war zones.
Thurston served four years of active duty and four years of reserve duty in the Navy from 1978 to 1986. During that time, the California native met her future husband, Kirk Thurston, who is retired from a military career. The two have lived in Rumford for more than 15 years.
“We as an auxiliary are always trying to find something to work on to help veterans,” she said.