This holiday season, many make long journeys to spend time with their families. For parents with children in the armed forces, such holiday reunions aren’t always possible. A group of military mothers are mending their empty nests by reaching out to veterans in need of a family of sorts — those who are homeless and living in transitional housing.
Here at the American Legion in Colchester, plates are spread out on the gray folding tables. The Blue Star Mothers circle them, carefully placing cookies of different sizes on each. They’re getting ready to deliver them to homeless vets currently living in transitional housing.
The Blue Star Mothers is a group comprised mostly of mothers of men and women in the armed forces. Its members are dedicated to acts of charity for vets.
Blue Star mom Mary Fitzgerald has a son in the coast guard in Virginia.
"Now with my son gone, it’s a way to get together with other moms and also to continue some Christmas traditions that I don’t have with my son, but I now have with this other group of people and have a chance to give back," she says.
This is the third year the Blue Star Mothers have prepared these packages for veterans in transition.
At another table, women prepare holiday cards. Valerie Pallotta of Colchester is one of them. For Pallotta, today holds special meaning. This is the first Blue Star Mothers meeting she’s attended since her son, Private First Class Joshua Pallotta, committed suicide in September. He’d been suffering from post-traumatic stress. Her emotions are running high — so high that she has to stop addressing envelopes when the next name on the list is Joshua W.
Pallotta says she didn’t want to come today. She wasn’t ready. But she felt she had to, as part of the grieving process.
"You know, we’re putting together gifts for veterans and there’s an empty space at my house for a very special veteran who is missed tremendously," she says. "But it is a big step, being here."
Pallotta says it makes her feel good to know she’s helping out.
"They’re just so appreciative, the veterans in transitional housing. The looks on their faces, you know, when they get a gift from the people who care. I think it’ll make a huge difference."
Veterans at risk of being homeless apply to stay at places like The Veterans Place in Northfield, or at Canal Street Veterans Housing in Winooski.
In the community room, a handful of veterans and some Blue Star Mothers decorate a tree. Bill Diaz is one of the vets. He says these visits by the moms aren't the same as visits from actual family, "but it’s nice that there are people who will stand there in loco parentis and offer us those comforts, offer us those tchotchkes that people don’t think about too much, but are important for maintaining, for lack of a better word, psychological equilibrium."
It’s unclear exactly how many veterans are homeless or are at risk of becoming so this holiday season.
What is clear, as far as the Blue Star Mothers are concerned, is that thoughtfulness, in the form of a plate of sugar cookies or a donated Christmas tree, helps brighten what could be a dark, lonely time for homeless veterans.