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Initiative distributes 2,000 coats, winter essentials to veterans in need

A homeless six-year Vietnam veteran smiles and wears his veteran's hat, "US is #1 because of our veterans" while an Airman from McConnell Air Force Base, Kan., helps find jackets for other homeless veterans at the Wichita Stand Down for Homeless Veterans. The event was assisted by Airmen from McConnell AFB and members of the Department of Veterans Affairs. (U.S. Navy photo/Petty Officer 2nd Class Troy Karr)
December 25, 2019

Thirty-six-year-old Army veteran Khaylan Widener has a lot to celebrate this holiday season. Widener recently moved out of transitional housing and into her own place in Groton, and now has a new winter coat to show off.

She was the recipient of one of 2,000 coats donated Friday by Ocean State Job Lot to Easterseals Capital Region & Eastern Connecticut in Norwich, which is serving as the distribution site for the coats.

Easterseals provides an array of services for veterans, such as vocational training and helping them navigate benefits available to them. The organization helps veterans of varying demographics, but most of them are low-income. The common denominator is that they are facing a challenge or barrier in life, said Josh Salazar, an Army vet who works as Easterseals’ senior director of military services.

Widener was the first vet to take advantage of the Easterseals transitional housing program and three months later, she happily reports that she “was the first one in, and the first one out.” She moved into a new place in Groton just days ago, she said.

Ocean State Job Lot is expected to distribute 8,000 coats in total to veterans like Widener throughout Connecticut as part of its “Buy, Give, Get” program, which ends on Dec. 27. Customers at all 139 stores across nine states are invited to “buy” a $40 winter coat for a veteran in need, “give” it back to Ocean State Job Lot and “get” their donation back in the form of a gift card.

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So far, 27,000 coats worth $1.2 million dollars have been set aside for distribution across the entire northeast.

Many of those picking up coats on Friday were organizations that serve veterans, but individual veterans also stopped by. Neil O’Brien, a Navy vet who volunteers for Easterseals, said one organization came all the way from Winsted to pick up the coats. Recipients also received buckets filled with food, toiletries and winter gear essentials.

The coats were brought to Easterseals by the USA Veterans and Military Support Foundation Inc.’s “Mobile Empowerment Center,” a custom-designed, tractor-trailer unit that brings perishable and nonperishable food items and basic necessities such as clothing and toiletries to military bases, veterans organizations and others.

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© 2019 The Day