Foster grands perform King Day of Service


From left, Vivian Ellis, George Kimbrough, Margaret Sharpe and Ella Gardner, volunteers in the Alachua County Foster Grandparent Program, participate in the National Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service at the Senior Recreation Center by making "life packs," baskets of food and daily essential living items for distribution to VETSPACE Inc. and local veterans.

ERICA BROUGH/Special to the Guardian
Published: Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 2:18 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 2:18 p.m.

In honor of the National Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, 101 Alachua County Foster Grandparents opened their hearts and their wallets to help struggling veterans in Alachua County.

The foster grandparents gathered last Thursday at the Senior Recreation Center to fill 15 laundry bags they decorated with blue/red/white ribbons and filled with non-perishable food and household items for veterans and their families in Alachua County.

“There is so much sacrifice made by men and women in the armed forces and we wanted to pay tribute in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. legacy of service,” said Gene Tysowsky, coordinator of the Alachua County Foster Grandparent program. “Dr. King was a big proponent of service to others.”

“You’ve stepped to the play,” Tysowsky told the foster grandparents. He said the foster grandparents donated most of the 589 items for the “life packs” food drive that started in December at the foster grandparent appreciation luncheon. The “life packs,” which also included a post card with a personal message of gratitude from the foster grandparents, were distributed to veterans and their families who have overcome obstacles and are now on track to self sufficiency.

“This is a good way to say ‘thank you’ to the veterans for their service,” said Candie Nixon, Alachua County social services director. She said for three years now, the foster grandparent program has participated in the National Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. Last year, they made blankets that were donated to the Alachua County Housing Authority and to homeless students in the Alachua County school district.

Nixon congratulated and thanked the foster grandparents for their hard work and for their donations. “You made this possible,” Nixon said, “and vets are going to be very happy.”

The foster grandparents program matches low-income volunteers ages 55 and older with children in child care centers, elementary schools and after-school programs.

Clotea Bray, a foster grandparent who serves second-grade students at Duval Elementary Fine Arts Academy, said the items she donated came from her kitchen cabinet. “I think it’s a good idea to do this for the veterans,” Bray said. “These are people coming back from war who can’t find jobs and are struggling to feed their family.”

Tisha McGlon, a foster grandparent who serves first-grade students at Lake Forest Elementary School, said she took advantage of buy one, get one free specials. “I donated one and kept the other one,” McGlon said.

Julia Strawder, a foster grandparent for a first-grade class at Williams Elementary, said she went to her kitchen cabinet for her donations. “Helping others is what it is all about,” Strawder said.

Rosa Jones, a foster grandparent for kindergarten students at Wiles Elementary School, said she held a neighborhood food drive by knocking on doors and asking for donations. Jones lives at Bailey Village on NW 6th Street.

“My neighbors really helped and they were so happy to give,” Jones said. “It opened their eyes to what’s happening and how people are struggling.”

Major Stroupe, director of Alachua County Veterans Services, said veterans need a helping hand, not a hand out but a hand up. “We have needy veterans who are struggling,” Stroupe said. “This (life pack) is critical to helping them along the way to self-sufficiency.”

Samantha Fleming, staff assistant at the Alachua County Foster Grandparents program, said foster grandparents were asked to donate two items per person, but they donated way more than that. “It’s always touching to see how willing they are to give when they’re struggling to make it at times,” Fleming said.

Christen Lancaster, an intern in the Alachua County Foster Grandparent program, said the foster grandparents brought bags and boxes filled with donations.

“These are real generous amazing people,” Lancaster said. “They volunteer because they love people. That’s the kind of people they are.”

“We’ve been blown away by their generosity and the baskets are going to people who have served our country,” Lancaster said. “It’s volunteers helping volunteers.”

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