Dani Gilbert and her wife, Blair Neelands, couldn’t believe their luck when they were looking for volunteer opportunities and learned about our veterans' services program.
As Army veterans themselves, it was a perfect fit. “Vets naturally connect with other vets,” says Dani. “We have that unique shared experience.” Adds Blair: “We were both really drawn to do our part to help people we identify with. Veterans are often misunderstood, especially when you add any sort of mental health issues. You never know what they’ve been through, but when you help them you see they are just as tough and resilient as anyone—and they are assets to our community. Seeing them get back on their feet is very inspiring.”
In February, Dani and Blair had just gotten started volunteering with Transition Projects veteran services team, planning community outings for recently-housed vets with severe and persistent mental health issues – when COVID hit. “We did one event before COVID – a dinner event where Pastini donated the food,” says Blair.
But when group outings were put on hold due to the pandemic, Dani and Blair stepped up when a new need arose: helping to get food boxes to vets who had been moved from Transition Projects shelters to motel programs. Every week, they package 15 to 20 food boxes and deliver them to veterans at their motel housing, provided by Transition Projects as part of a program to help them find permanent housing.
After several months of delivering food boxes, they’ve gotten to know many of the vets, and have already seen some move from Transition Projects housing to their own homes. “We were delivering food boxes one weekend, and one of the vets we always talk to told us she’d be moving on. Because of the program she was able to save money and get her own apartment. We’re bummed that we haven’t seen her since, but so happy and proud of her for being able to do that.”
In the long run, Dani and Blair would like to grow the program with gatherings and events for vets, because “there is so much value in the social connections” says Dani. But for now, they remain focused on the highest need, and safely supporting their fellow brothers and sisters. “If it’s continuing to do food boxes, that’s what we’ll do. It keeps us motivated and keeps the veterans in the program moving forward, too. We’re honored to be part of their support system.”