Usually around this time of year, Veterans and their friends and families would have lined the streets of the Columbia VA’s campus to watch thousands of revved motorcycles pass them by. The purpose? To deliver charitable donations for Veterans… and to spread a little holiday cheer.
Because of the pandemic, this year’s Vet’s Christmas Charity Ride – an annual motorcycle parade founded by Veterans now in its 20th year – was cancelled. Still, Midlands’ communities came together to fulfill the ride’s mission: to help local South Carolina Veterans.
Above, Columbia VA social workers begin to load more than 320 food baskets for in-need Veterans in time for the holidays.
“We are so appreciative for our community’s continued support to our Veterans, especially during these challenging times,” said David Omura, director and chief executive officer for the Columbia VA. “Every year, the Vet’s Charity Ride always delivers to help us make this time of year a little easier – and happier for our Veterans.”
Army Veteran Edward Fulton receives a gift basket of essential food items.
Over the past month, the founders of the Vet’s Christmas Charity Ride collected food, clothes, blankets, toiletries and even grocery store gift certificates and gift cards. The community dropped off items at locations around the city.
On Dec. 13, volunteers transported and delivered the gifts and donations – enough to fill an 18-foot trailer – to Columbia VA.
“Can’t imagine a more worthy cause”
In previous years, Columbia VA would have dozens of volunteers assemble 200 food baskets and 160 clothing bags (on average). However, due to COVID-19, there are more Veterans in need this year, so demand for assistance increased dramatically.
Fortunately, soldiers from Fort Jackson’s Judge Advocate Generals’ Office volunteered to sort the donations and prepare the hundreds of baskets for Veterans.
Army Capitan Samuel Girwarnauth helps to arrange gift bags
“This is the third year we’ve been able to do this,” said Army Capitan Samuel Girwarnauth. “We love VA and helping our Veterans. We can’t imagine a more worthy cause than giving back to our Veterans, especially this time of year.”
Columbia VA staff and Fort Jackson soldiers were able to put together more than 200 clothing bags, which were given to nursing home residents and inpatients. Additionally, more than 320 food baskets were delivered to in-need Veterans as identified by VA social workers.
As VA social workers distributed the baskets and bags, Veterans were overcome and grateful for the gifts.
Army Veteran Sweatt with Christmas cards written by school students
Timothy Sweatt, Army retiree, was very thankful for the gift bag and heartfelt Christmas cards that local area schools wrote especially for Veterans.
“These gifts and cards are so sweet,” he said. “It feels great that people outside are thinking about Veterans and they want to take care of us. And that they go out of their way to help. It means so much to get them.”
Donations reach a record high
But despite not having a “ride,” the outpouring of support for Veterans during this challenging year was a record high.
This year, $35,000 in donations, which includes more than $15,000 in cash, was given to the facility. Over the past 20 years, more than $1 million – in monetary and non-monetary contributions – has been collected and donated to the Columbia VA.
These annual donations provide much needed support well beyond the holiday season. The cash donations are used to provide resources for in-need Veterans throughout the year.
Dillon McConnell is a public affairs specialist at the Columbia VA Health Care System.