A Way to Say “Thank You”
By: David Ibata
The Salvation Army corps in Muskogee, Oklahoma, set out to do something special for men and women who have done something special for their country. It started an Angel Tree program for military veterans.
“There’s a very large VA hospital here and a very large VA program, and of course this being Oklahoma, people care about their veterans a lot,” said corps officer Major Sue Dewan.
Last year, at a quarterly Veterans Administration voluntary service meeting, it was asked if a group could donate $25 gift cards to be handed out at Christmas.
“I remember telling the woman in charge of the program that I thought we could do better than a $25 gift card,” Major Dewan said. “We got in touch with KI BOIS Community Action, a veterans outreach program here, and suggested the Angel Tree.”
KI BOIS – its name combines that of two local mountain ranges, the Kiamichi and Sans Bois – “works with homeless veterans,” Major Dewan said. “They do the intake for us because of confidentiality issues with the Veterans Administration. The only criteria are that the veterans live in Muskogee County, and the VA designates them in some kind of need.”
Marcela Paige, social services program director at the Muskogee Corps, said, “We serve veterans of all ages – homeless veterans, veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder or mental health issues, all of them low-income.”
“One of them said, ‘I’d do anything to be able to give something to my wife.’ It was very touching.” The community embraced the idea.
“When I announced the veterans Angel Tree at one of our Christmas benefit concerts, I got a standing ovation,” Major Dewan said. In 2016, Angel Tree tags for 65 veterans were quickly snapped up, and people asked for more.
In November, four Angel Trees went up at a local shopping mall, with tags for 600 boys and girls, 150 seniors and more than 100 veterans.
Most veterans do ask for gift cards, for particular purposes – for department stores so they can buy clothes, or for gas for their cars so they can drive to doctors’ appointments. Others participate in the VA’s Project Hero Oklahoma cycling program for PTSD patients, and they ask for bicycles.
“We’ll have just a very low-key drop-in and reception, and we’ll give the veterans their gifts,” Major Dewan said. “There will be a small ceremony to thank them. Our board members and auxiliary members will be hosts and hostesses.”
The veterans at last year’s reception were very thankful, Paige said. “One of them couldn’t believe we were doing this. He said that all these years he’s been a veteran, this is the first time he’s had this happen for him.”
Dewan said, “Sometimes you’re just somewhere and the Lord says you can do it, and you do.”