Trenton Allinson, left, who helps house veterans for EasterSeals Oregon in Salem, buys raffle tickets from Salem Elks Lodge #336 President Blake Whitson (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)
Edie Higgins has a talent for conjuring kitchen supplies out of thin air.
In her work for EasterSeals Oregon, Higgins helps homeless veterans in the Salem area find housing.
Many have been homeless for a long time and own no furniture, cleaning supplies, cookware or other items to make their new apartments into homes. Higgins does her best to find donors willing to help.
“They start out with nothing,” she said.
Now, the task will be easier thanks to a new effort from Salem Elks Lodge #336, which is applying a $2,000 national grant toward supplying basic household goods to newly-housed veterans.
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The lodge plans to build 20 move-in kits over the first year of the program and will consider expanding if that goes well, lodge President Blake Whitson said.
EasterSeals operates a veteran housing program through a grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, but is restricted on how it can spend those funds, Higgins said. They can help pay rental expenses but aren’t able to buy basic items for people moving into housing.
Most are starting fresh and don’t have disposable income to outfit their homes.
“Sometimes food stamps is their only income,” Higgins said.
Most veterans they help are from the Vietnam era, but Higgins said some older veterans in their 80s are also struggling with housing after seeing rent rise to the point they’re forced to go back to work to make ends meet.
Oregon also has a number of homeless veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, though they’re less likely to seek help, she said.
“They think, ‘I’m young, I can sleep on my friend’s couch.’ We definitely would like to serve that population,” she said.
Salem Elks Howard Bauman, Freddee Whitson, Rod Coakly, Linda Loop, and Maria Coakly assemble food boxes for veteran families for Christmas 2018 (Courtesy/Blake Whitson)
The move-in help grew out of the lodge’s existing program to provide Christmas gifts to the children of veterans and National Guard members in need, Whitson said.
For the past four years, they’ve taken a $2,000 grant from the national Elks organization and put it toward presents, often stretching the funds using coupons and reward programs to make sure every kid gets what they want.
“I can’t tell you how much some of our members love Kohl’s cash,” Whitson said with a laugh. Last year, they helped 13 families with 42 children.
Several families lodge members shopped for last Christmas were homeless and living in hotels. Whitson said that led to a discussion between their lodge and EasterSeals about how they could do more.
Whitson said the lodge will buy what individual veterans or families need as they get requests from EasterSeals. Lodge members will likely chip in their own money or donate cleaning supplies, and the lodge is holding a raffle of a 2003 Harley Davidson XLH883 Hugger motorcycle to raise funds for their veteran programs.
The lodge will continue its existing veteran programs this year, including the Christmas presents and a free Veterans Day meal.
“I would love for this to be a partnership that builds,” Whitson said.
Reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.