The slogan "Support Our Troops" to Walla Walla's Veterans of Foreign Wars post means more than send-off ceremonies when men and women go to war and welcoming back those who return. It also means continuing to be at their side long after sounds of battle have silenced and troops get on with their civilian lives.
Larry Diederich, senior vice commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Grant Farmer Post 992, hopes the community will also continue in that spirit.
Organizers have planned the first of what they hope will become an annual fundraiser for homeless veterans if the need continues. The Winter Wonderland Fundraiser will be Jan. 28 at the post, 102 N. Colville St.
"And we plan on having one each year, depending on the homeless veteran population," said Diederich.
"One hundred percent of the proceeds from everything will go to the homeless vets," he said, adding that the money will help veterans with housing deposits, job hunting and other necessities. "There's no administration fee or any of that junk. The VFW is a non-profit organization so your donations are tax deductible."
Diederich, his wife Darlene, Judi Robinson, Judy Gumm, Dick Davert, Darlene Scruggs and auctioneer Wanda Mountain are among key organizers of`
the event, which will include wine tasting, dinner, a live auction, and dancing. Country western music will be provided by the band Shaniko.
Diederich said that they want veterans to know the VFW, in addition to other organizations, stands ready to help in a number of ways.
Rhonda Lund, program manager of the Corps of Recovery Discovery, a local transitional housing program for homeless veterans, said the organization has the capacity for 44 veterans.
"Right now we have 36 in the program," she said.
In August, Renee Rooker, of Walla Walla Housing Authority, told U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., during a fact-finding visit to Walla Walla that there are nearly 150 homeless veterans in the area.
"There is a lack of funding for deposits, security and utility deposits, to get veterans into a permanent home," Rooker was quoted as telling the senator.
According to a supplement to the Department of Veterans Affairs' Annual Homeless Assessment Report released in December, 67,495 veterans were homeless in the United States on a single night in January 2011 - which the VA called "a significant reduction" from the 2010 single night count of 76,329.
Lund said veterans in the local CORD program are helped for the first 30 days and then the referrals start, whether they need to get ID, go back to school or however they want to move forward with their lives.
"There are all kinds of opportunities available to them," she said.
Two to three of the veterans currently in the CORD program are from the Iraq and Afganistan wars but most are from Vietnam, Desert Storm and Desert Shield.
Diederich said the funds raised at the Jan. 28 VFW event will be used in conjunction with CORD or Veterans Administration funds. "If the need doesn't meet their regulations, they can just send the veteran to us. We don't have the same restrictions," he said.
He said the VFW also is working with HelpLine to get the word out to homeless vets that a helping hand is available. Veterans can also contact the VFW to get help or be referred to another source.
"We can keep tabs on the individual and get an idea of how much help he or she needs," Diederich said.
Winter Wonderland event organizers also want greater involvement in the community to assist veterans.
"We are going to a number of the businesses in town and asking for donations, maybe gift certificates or cash," he said.
For more VFW assistance information, or to make reservations for the fundraiser, call 509-525-1310 or 509-301-0751.
Karlene Ponti can be reached at 509-526-8324 or firstname.lastname@example.org
If You Go
Jan. 28 at the VFW 102 N. Colville, Walla Walla
- wine tasting at 4 p.m.
- dinner by retired chef Darlene Diederich at 6 p.m.
- wine tasting and auction $5
- whole event including dinner $10.