Charity to give away free new suits to military vets including active duty

By RITA PRICE | The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio | Published: January 1, 2016

With a son in the Marine Corps and a heart that aches for all military families, Madel O’Neil found her own mission as a volunteer with the H.E.R.O.E.S. Care support program.

It’s humbling and satisfying work, pulling together community resources to help meet the needs of service members who give so much, the Lancaster resident said.

Projects were pretty straightforward until O’Neil was asked how many pallets of suits she wanted. “Pallets?” she thought. “I had no idea what was a pallet, and how much is in a pallet.”

The answer: a lot. O’Neil soon received a shipment of nearly 300 new men’s suits, 400 dress shirts and dozens of ties, belts and shoes.

All items are now displayed in a storefront in the Worthington mall, where they will be offered free to veterans and servicemembers on Saturday and Sunday.

Although no one will be turned away, the effort is aimed at 9/11-era servicemembers. A military ID or discharge documentation is required.

“We’re obviously looking for those seeking employment or who will be transitioning soon,” said Upper Arlington resident Mitch Stafford, a captain in the Ohio Army National Guard.

Stafford said he, O’Neil and other organizers want to help service members “feel confident about how they look” without the worry of spending hundreds of dollars on a good suit.

The massive donation came through the H.E.R.O.E.S. organization from a corporation that wants to remain anonymous. The Worthington mall — the Shops at Worthington Place — provided space, and Swan Cleaners pressed the dress shirts.

H.E.R.O.E.S., which stands for Homefront Enabling Relationships, Opportunities and Empowerment through Support, collaborates with other organizations and trained caregivers to mitigate some of the non-physical injuries that often accompany deployment.

Moving from military to civilian life, especially after service in a combat area, can cause debilitating stress, said Stafford, who has been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. “Just because they’re home does not mean they’re out of harm’s way.”

Against that backdrop, small gestures can carry surprisingly deep meaning. The gift of a new suit, for example, “eliminates a variable that can cause stress,” Stafford said.

The giveaway features new, brand-name clothing, and volunteers will be on hand to assist. “Each veteran will get someone to walk around with them,” Stafford said. “We’ll grab a shirt, try on some jackets.”

He came to the project through a relative who is a member of Trinity United Methodist Church in Marble Cliff, which operates a Stephen Ministry that works with H.E.R.O.E.S.

Stephen ministers and leaders provide one-to-one counseling, “and for H.E.R.O.E.S. Care, you need that,” said Gary Brand, the older-adult ministry director at Trinity. “But you also need these kinds of things.”

O’Neil said she was thrilled when Brand and Stafford found a way to showcase the suits. “If this is a success, we can get more next year,” she said. Supporters also hope to add women’s clothing at future events.

O’Neil’s son, Sgt. Daniel F. O’Neil, was amazed to discover what his mother had accomplished. She sent one of the suits to his post at Camp Pendleton north of San Diego, knowing that he probably expected it to be secondhand.

“Mama!” he said. “This is a new suit.”

Mrs. O’Neil beamed. “He is 24 and in the Marine Corps,” she said, “and he still calls me Mama, and my heart melts.”

Was there anything she could do for some of his men? They would try to pay.

Mrs. O’Neil and her husband, Daniel J. O’Neil, wouldn’t hear of it. Their son’s colleagues, and everyone who comes to the giveaway, already are square.

“My husband said, ‘When they raised their hands and took the oath, they paid for those suits?’ ’’

When and where

The suit giveaway runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 2, 2016, and from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Shops at Worthington Place, 7227 N. High St. in Columbus, Ohio


©2016 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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