Rotary Club provides soap and hope for homeless veterans

By Gabby LandsverkStaff Writer

The Little Falls Rotary Club is launching its third-annual collection of backpacks and personal hygiene items for homeless veterans in collaboration with the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV).

The Little Fall Rotary Club was presented with an “Above and Beyond” award for service from the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV). Pictured are, from left: Nathaniel Saltz, Scott Grother, Myron Katzenmeyer, Kathy Vitalis, Jeanne Kenning Smith, Phil Smith, Renee Nieman, Doreen Kapsner, Caroline Wadman, Patience Svor, Diane Zalasin and Virgil Girtz. Rotary Club members not pictured: Jim Birchem, Anna Tykwinski and Kristen VonBerge.

The Little Fall Rotary Club was presented with an “Above and Beyond” award for service from the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV). Pictured are, from left: Nathaniel Saltz, Scott Grother, Myron Katzenmeyer, Kathy Vitalis, Jeanne Kenning Smith, Phil Smith, Renee Nieman, Doreen Kapsner, Caroline Wadman, Patience Svor, Diane Zalasin and Virgil Girtz. Rotary Club members not pictured: Jim Birchem, Anna Tykwinski and Kristen VonBerge.

“It’s good for the community as well as for the Rotarians,” said Club Community Service Chair Jeanne Smith.

The Club requests that community residents donate travel-sized items like soap and toothpaste, which will be gathered and distributed to homeless or in-crisis veterans through MACV’s “StandDown” events throughout the state.

According to MACV Program Director Nathaniel Saltz, about 10 of the events are held throughout the year in cities across Minnesota, where 40-80 service providers show up to connect vets with resources for health, legal council, community, employment, housing and other needs.

These resources are made available in additional to other assistance provided by MACV, such as the toiletries, and are intended to help vets achieve stability.

‘We’re about a long-term solution … figuring out how they got in that situation to begin with,” MACV President/CEO Kathy Vitalis. “If you don’t fix systemic issues, but just keep paying their rent for them, that doesn’t do any of us any good.”

At the Club’s meeting Monday, MACV presented the Rotarians with an “Above and Beyond” award in recognition for past contributions.

“(Little Falls) has clearly stood out for its excellent work,” Vitalis said.

Last year, the club donated approximately 6,000 items and just under $2,000 dollars to help close to 2,500 homeless veterans.

“It’s a lot of work, but my goodness is it worth it,” Saltz said.

MACV Outreach Casework Manager Scott Grother said that basic toiletries, while taken for granted by most people, can be a huge boost to a homeless or struggling vet’s morale.

“I have a local guy who, every time he gets soap or shampoo, it’s like Christmas for him,” Grother said.

The Rotary’s partnership with MACV was spearheaded by Jeanne and Club President Phil Smith, a husband-and-wife team that brought their work with MACV to Little Falls from the Fairmount branch of the Club when they moved.

“Thank goodness the Rotary Club was very receptive here,” Phil said.

In addition to contributing to MACV, the Little Falls Rotary Club raisesfunds to help local people in need.

The Club recently finished up one such fundraiser, its annual rose sale, with all 425 dozen roses sold out, netting $2,890 for the club, an increase over last year.

Another fundraiser, the Club’s annual cookout is scheduled for Friday and Saturday, May 15-16.

Funds raised by the Rotary Club goes toward providing scholarships, purchasing cold-weather clothes for the needy, buying dictionaries for third graders in the county and providing holiday gifts for seniors and other people in need.

“I have never met a club that works so hard as Rotary does and is as compassionate as Rotary is — to be able to tap into that (and help people) is huge,” Jeanne said.

The Rotary Club will be collecting items for MACV from May 15 to July 15. Donations can be dropped off at MidMinnesota Federal Credit Union, Ace Hardware, American Legion, Coborn’s and New 2 You Thrift Store. Cash donations can be made by check and mailed to Rotary Homeless Project, PO Box 414, Little Falls, MN.

Items needed include new or gently used backpacks, white athletic socks, toothbrushes, dental floss and travel-sized containers of lotion, shampoo, toothpaste, soap and deodorant.

Phil said that providing personal care items not only helps the vets have better health and a better chance at landing jobs, but also shows appreciation for their service and reminds them that their community still cares.

“It isn’t really the toothpaste and the backpack, although that’s nice. It’s showing that somebody cares enough to gather those things. And my gosh, it takes so little for us to do that,” Phil said.

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