Foster grandparents reach out


Priscilla Monroe, from left, Addie Perry, Connie Smith and Maria Lenard, with the Alachua County Foster Grandparent Program, place toiletries and food items into a hand-decorated basket.

DOUG FINGER/Special to the Guardian
Published: Wednesday, January 15, 2014 at 3:05 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 15, 2014 at 3:05 p.m.

Barbara Perry sifted through a stack of freshly penned postcards, reading aloud.

"We are most delighted to serve you," recited the 72-year-old. "You have served our country well."

Perry was one of nearly 100 Alachua County Foster Grandparent Program volunteers, all age 55 and older, who gathered last Thursday at the Senior Recreation Center to write postcards and bundle "life packs" for local veterans who are transitioning from homelessness to having a new place to call home. The volunteer work last Thursday was in honor of the National Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.

The "life packs" are baskets containing basic household goods and nonperishable foods donated by foster grandparents and the program's advisory council.

"It's important because it's a part of Martin Luther King's legacy to help one another," said Perry, who has been a foster grandparent for nearly nine years and is a member of the advisory council. "They have served us, and we should be giving back to them."

Program Coordinator Sheryl Baker said through this initiative, the group has donated about 600 items to veterans who are transitioning into new housing.

"We really wanted to give them some new things to feel nice when going into their apartments," she said.

Each table of foster grandparents elected a captain and decided on a group name, such as "Grandmothers of Today," "Charity Giving," "The Golden Girls" and "What Would Jesus Give."

As the foster grandparents filled out postcards for the veterans and packed laundry-basket-sized "life packs" full of dish soap, paper goods, peanut butter and other supplies, they shared stories about their military family members.

"I have a family of military men," said Perry, who originally moved to Gainesville because her father was stationed at a nearby military base. "My father, brothers and other close relatives were in the Air Force, Navy, Army and Marines. You think of our veterans who come back to this country and need help and support. We are here to give them the support they need."

Hilda Haywood, who has been a foster grandparent for 10 years and sat with Perry at the Grandmothers of Today table, has a son who is a Navy veteran and a nephew who is an Army veteran.

"This (service project) is to honor the best of the best — and that includes all (veterans)," the 74-year-old said.

Although the program traditionally works to engage children who are considered special or exceptional, this is the second year the group has donated "life packs" to veterans and the fourth year they have participated in the National Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, said Candie Nixon, director of the Alachua County Social Services Program. The first two years, volunteers made blankets for the Gainesville Housing Authority.

"It's a good use of (the foster grandparents') talents and their energy," Nixon said.

Once the 16 baskets were stuffed and decorated with red and blue streamers, Baker presented them to three representatives from the HONOR center, a facility that provides programs for homeless veterans.

Emily Miller is a Gainesville Sun correspondent.

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