Christmas Gift Bags

- 1/12/2021

            As the 2020 Christmas season approached, due to Corona virus restrictions on church gatherings, one Downingtown area church was not able to offer the same charitable support it had given to the Fresh Start program in previous years. Consequently, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 845 of Downingtown was asked if it could help make the holiday season a little brighter for approximately 60 homeless veterans currently being served by that program.

            Post 845 willingly agreed to help because as Post Commander Marty Peterson has stated many times, "The primary purpose of our post is to help other veterans.”

            Fresh Start is one of several programs operated by Merakey. That parent organization’s purpose is to provide social services to a wide variety of people in twelve states. The subsidiary, Fresh Start, assists chemically dependent, mentally ill, and/or homeless individuals in gaining the treatment and support necessary to lead healthy and productive lives. The Coatesville Fresh Start operation focuses on homeless individuals, and in particular, homeless veterans.

            Jennifer Ficco is program manager for a Fresh Start operation on the campus of the Coatesville Veterans Administration (VA) Hospital. She explained that her organization houses homeless male veterans in two separate buildings where she works to prepare them to acquire housing elsewhere when they are physically and mentally able to do so. While doctors and counselors help with addiction, mental health, or other physical problems, Fresh Start staff focuses on working with the veterans in these programs to find appropriate housing for their individual needs.  

            Until such time as adequate housing can be found, the veterans are housed and fed on VA grounds.

            To make life a little more pleasant for the veterans, Fresh Start holds an annual holiday event whereby the men enjoy a meal with some upgrades such as pie for dessert or a specialty sandwich tray. The men are also presented with a gift bag on Christmas Day containing personal use items such as socks, toothpaste, and packaged snack foods. The gift bags this year will be through the courtesy of Post 845.

            Post Quartermaster and retired army Sergeant First Class, Ernie Griffith, solicited donations from members of the post and the surrounding community through signs and information on the post’s Facebook page. Griffith said he had a very generous response. He and fellow post members packaged 60 gift bags to be distributed on Christmas Day. The post also donated a $500 gift certificate to be used for groceries that will enhance the meal at the holiday party. 

Members of VFW Post 845 and its subsidiary, Brandywine Home Association (for social members), prepared Christmas gift baskets for homeless veterans. Pictured from left to right are: resident caretaker Tom Wise, quartermaster Ernie Griffith, Home Association managing director Jerry Banks, post commander Marty Peterson, Home Association assistant manager Mary Banks, and Home Association member Tom Boyer.