Pinup girl makes helping veterans her mission
California woman visits, donates to VA centers
By WARREN PEACE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 14, 2010
A California woman is having her picture taken while wearing sexy outfits from the 1940s and ’50s to help U.S. servicemembers and to pay homage to her late grandfather.
In 2007, Gina Elise, 27, began posing for her “Pin-Ups for Vets” calendars and “Kiss a Vet” T-shirts, then sending them to military veterans and wounded and deployed servicemembers around the globe.
She established a Web site through which donations can be sent to purchase and help finance the World War II-style calendars, thousands of which she has personally delivered to hospital patients across the U.S. She also gives income from the calendar sales to the hospitals where she makes her bedside visits.
So far she has donated $35,000 and hopes to reach $50,000 by the end of this year.
“Despite what they have been through, they are so strong, and it motivates me to keep doing what I am doing, to help them with their rehabilitation and to raise money so that they can have better care — the care they deserve,” Elise said of the calendar recipients during a recent telephone interview.
During the Salute to Hospitalized Veterans Week last week, the Portland, Ore., VA Medical Center Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Service received a $15,000 donation by Elise. The money will go toward the purchase of much needed equipment, a hospital official said.
“She is incredible,” said Shaun Benson, who, as the hospital’s director of the Voluntary Service Office, officially presented the check. “That $15,000 was a real blessing to the polytrauma unit here where the money will go to buy new equipment.”
She said tales of her grandfather, a WWII vet, inspired her to begin the charity work.
“I was 4 when he passed away, but my mother always talked about him and how proud she was of his service,” she said. “I hope he can see what I am doing. I am doing this for him, too.”
She was also spurred to action by news reports about underfunded health care programs for veterans and troops wounded during fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
For help with the calendar, she contacted photographers and costume designers she met while studying theater history at UCLA. She initially planned it to be a one-time deal — her first calendar resulted in a $5,000 donation to a military hospital — but when the letters of appreciation started rolling in, she decided to continue.
Her Web site, www.pinupsforvets.com, has added a list of sponsors, advertisers and a map of hospitals she has visited. It also contains photos sent by troops downrange of their tents decorated with pictures from her calendars and messages telling her they carry her picture with them on missions.
Gina Elise visits a hospitalized veteran at the Portland, Ore., VA Medical Center on June 2009. Elise has delivered thousands of "Pin-ups for Vets" calendars to hospital patients and has donated $35,000 to hospitals since she began her charity work in 2007.
PHOTO COURTESY OF PORTLAND VA MEDICAL CENTER