More than 60 Veterans were treated to a holiday meal and gifts during a Drive-Thru Holiday event on Dec. 20 at the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center in Muskogee, OK.
VA nurse Deniece Anderson organized the event. She said the event began two years ago when she noticed Veterans coming to the hospital weekly, if not daily, for appointments. After asking a few questions, she learned that many of them had no families or no contact with them and were coming in because they were lonely.
“This was just placed on my heart,” Anderson said. “I asked my manager how we could help them, with maybe a meal and a few gifts. I contacted Voluntary Service. They offered to help with the food. I then put up flyers about the event and donations began to come in from employees all over the hospital.”
The event, held in the auditorium of the hospital, featured entertainment, a hot meal and gifts. It was such a success that Anderson decided to make it an annual holiday outing for Veterans without families.
Then 2020 put a different spin on things. No longer could an event be held inside the medical center where more than 10 people would gather. It was decided to have a drive-through event where “To Go” meals could be handed to Veterans in their vehicles, along with a gift bag.
Pictured above, Volunteer Shelby Younger helps Army Veteran Paul Palmer add shoes to his gift bag.
FFA high school students’ annual community project
Approximately 25 volunteers made up of staff and the community assisted the Veterans throughout the event. One group of Future Farmers of America (FFA) high school students has made this their community project since it began in 2018.
“Midway FFA members look forward to this event every year,” said Kaylee Herriman, FFA President. “We have had the pleasure of serving our Veterans for the last three years. I can’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than spreading some Christmas cheer to those who have given so much to our country.”
Younger, a volunteer from Tahlequah, OK, was also happy to be part of the event. “I had tried to join the Air Force and the Army and was unable. So I was looking for a way to give back to Veterans.”
Donations were received from several Veteran and civic organizations, as well as schools wanting to contribute. In fact, tables had to be set up outside for all the new clothing items the hospital received specifically for this event. After Veterans drove through the line to get their meal and gift bag, they were told they could park and pick out any new clothing items they needed, as long as they wore a mask.
“A tradition to show our Veterans how much we care.”
Palmer was grateful for the event. It was the first time he attended. “I just moved here in June from Kansas City,” he said. “I had very little clothing with me, so I’m extremely thankful that you are doing this.”
Anderson said that several Veterans told her how much they loved the gift bags and were impressed with all the nice things inside.
“The event would not be possible without the support of Voluntary Services and all the other volunteers who come out to assist,” said Anderson. “My heart is overwhelmed with the outpouring of support for this event since its inception. My hope is that long after I’m gone, this will continue to be a tradition to show our Veterans how much we care.”
Nita McClellan is chief of Public Affairs & Voluntary Service for the Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System. Christopher Beshears is a photographer for the VISN 19 Consolidated Communication Unit.