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Groups reach out to veterans in need

Host food, winter clothing distribution

Staff photo / Allie Vugrincic Youngstown Blue Coats volunteer Pat Maiorcia of Hubbard hands boots to a local veteran during a distribution event Tuesday at Veterans’ Outreach, 7 Belgrade Ave., Liberty. Youngstown Blue Coats supplied winter coats, boots, hats, scarves and gloves and Veterans’ Outreach had 100 bags of nonperishable food available for veterans in need.

LIBERTY — Coming to Veterans’ Outreach can be “very emotional” for some veterans, said Michelle Cope of Cornersburg, who is with the organization.

“But they feel loved when they come here,” Cope said.

The nonprofit has been helping veterans with daily problems from housing to food, gas and clothes since 1994.

Clothing and nonperishable food is available Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at the Veterans’ Outreach office at 7 Belgrade Ave., Liberty, through the “Hero’s Closet” and “Freedom Food Pantry,” according to executive director Teri Ely.

Other assistance, such as help with utilities, minor car repairs or food cards is available by appointment.

“The big thing right now is gas cards,” Bob Julian, services director, said. He said in a year, Veterans’ Outreach provides services for about 4,000 veterans across most of Ohio, from the Mahoning Valley to Cleveland and Summit County.

Tuesday, veterans got something extra special — the Youngstown Blue Coats were on site to hand out winter coats and boots, hats, scarves and gloves.

Navy veteran Mitch Williams of Youngstown, who served in active duty from the late 1970s to the early ’90s and then continued in the Reserve for a handful of years after, walked away from Tuesday’s event with all of the essentials for winter, plus a bag of food from Veterans’ Outreach. He said it was “very nice” those items were available for veterans and he was grateful.

“I’m going to sort it out when I get home,” he said of his haul.

Another Navy veteran, William Curry of Youngstown, showed off a Cleveland Browns coat he got at the distribution, which perfectly matched his Cleveland Browns hat.

Patty Summers, president and CEO of Youngstown Blue Coats, said someone previously had tried and failed to give away that coat in Pittsburgh, one of the areas the nonprofit serves.

The Youngstown Blue Coats’ mission is to prevent freezing and injury caused by extreme weather exposure to the homeless and financially destitute. The nonprofit’s motto is, “In America, nobody should freeze to death.”

“We feel that there should be absolutely no one that’s homeless, but we find that everywhere,” Summers said. “And we find at least one homeless veteran everywhere we go. That, in our opinion, is unacceptable.”

Youngstown Blue Coats always has a special focus on military veterans, but this year — the Blue Coats’ fifth season — the organization dedicated the month of November to doing warming distributions with the veterans’ organizations with which it partners, Summers said.

During regular distribution, the all-volunteer Blue Coats team takes its blue bus to areas where they know of a homeless population, usually led by a local guide, and provides those in need with items to stay warm or sheltered — anything from gloves to a tent, according to Summers. They cover the Akron / Canton area through western Pennsylvania to Pittsburgh.

“You know, there’s just so much need,” Summers said. “Every time we go out, we always find people.”

Summers said the Blue Coats volunteers do not announce where they will be in order to make sure they meet the needs of those who most need it. The Blue Coats do have several more events with veterans organizations planned in the next two weeks, she said.

Both Veterans’ Outreach and the Youngstown Blue Coats give away all items that are donated to them. To donate, visit Veterans’ Outreach at 7 Belgrade Ave., Youngstown, OH 44505, or call 330-755-5793, or call the Youngstown Blue Coats at 330-531-1762.

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