Volunteers Work to Provide Veterans’ Basic Needs

At a Westy storage facility in East Northport, Lonnie Sherman stacks boxes of underwear from floor to ceiling. The boxes will soon be in the hands of some of the hundreds of homeless veterans living on Long Island.

It started 15 years ago, when Lonnie was volunteering for homeless veterans, and while serving dinner,  “I started talking to the men and women that were there, saying like, what’s really going on, what do you guys really need? And they all started saying underwear,” Sherman said.

Sherman learned that while shelters frequently receive donated clothing, few people donate daily essentials like underwear and socks. He began to rally friends and family for donations of brand-new underwear and distributing them monthly.

At that time, General Needs was supporting about 45 veterans, distributing needed items to them between three and four times a year at the Northport VA Emergency Shelter. Since then, they have grown to serve as many as 4,000 veterans each year at over a dozen distribution sites. Underwear and socks became boots, coats, and gloves, and now they provide everything from hygiene items, to cleaning supplies and household appliances.

“Some guys need everything,” said board member and volunteer Kathy Paleaz. “And what we do is give them everything. From vacuums, to glassware to dinnerware….everything for the kitchen and the bathroom you could imagine, down to a potato peeler, pillows, sheets, comforters. Everything you and I have in our house. So in the morning, they can wake up, make themselves coffee, and get back out into society.”

Currently in the United States, 1.5 million veterans live below the federal poverty level, according to the organization National Veterans Homeless Support. Many are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, other forms of mental illness, or traumatic brain injuries that can make it extremely difficult for individuals to meet their own needs.

One particularly unmet need is for dentistry. New York University’s College of Dentisty reported that only 8 percent of veterans are eligible for dental benefits through the VA.

That’s why Sherman has begun working with Dr. Raymond Mascolo, D.D.S., to bring free dental care to veterans in the tri-state area.

“We’ve done six (free dental procedures) so far, we’re planning on doing 12 this year,” Sherman says. “We have a big gala coming up in May, primarily to raise money to make sure we get the dental program completed.”

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, homeless people are 12 times more likely to have dental problems than people living in stable housing.

A gala to support the dental project will be held at Leonard’s Palazzo in Great Neck on May 10, at 6:30 p.m. The honorees are Thomas Ronayne, retired director of the Suffolk County Veterans Service Agency, and Dr. Raymond Mascolo.

Tickets can be purchased at https://generalneeds.betterworld.org/events/gala.

General Needs is run by volunteers who take home no salaries, and they frequently partner with other charitable groups on Long Island, including Rotary groups, Long Island Cares, and United Veterans Beacon House. Through the work of their dedicated volunteer staff, General Needs has delivered thousands of items to veterans in need while maintaining an overhead of just six and a half percent, according to their financial statements.

General Needs has been storing the donation items at Westy Self Storage since 2015, where Assistant Director Allen Friedman shared a particularly moving moment he observed between Sherman and one of the veterans they served.

“I’ll never forget this moment at the VA,” Friedman said. “It was this guy who’s almost folded in on himself, and he was shuffling around. I get choked up every time I say it. And this guy goes by and [Sherman] just said ‘Thank you for your service.’ And [the veteran], just straightened up. He said ‘Thank you.’ And he just transformed, like a flower, instantly.”

“We all have our lives because of the American veteran,” said Sherman. “These guys saved the world. So how do we not support them? The government is doing the best they can do, but we feel that the responsibility for doing the balance of what needs to be done is us. And we’re trying to do that.”

photo caption: General Needs provides duffel bags full of personal supplies, and each one comes with a hand-made thank you note.

One Reply to “Volunteers Work to Provide Veterans’ Basic Needs”

  1. Such an extraordinary organization. I’d encourage everyone to look up General Needs, read about their mission and operations and support them however you are able.

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