Duncan Holmes’ Stories: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

Mobile laundry for the homeless

We have all walked past the homeless many times on our streets. Four years ago, two young Australian men saw a need that wasn’t being filled and were moved to do it despite the obstacles. They outfitted a van with a clothes washer and dryer. They drove it to the places the homeless hang out – the parks, churches, drop-in centers. This was their bid to bring hygiene services to the homeless community on their own turf.

They had numerous obstacles to overcome including widespread skepticism about the plan. They also had to figure out how to power the machines and what to do with the waste water. The service is free, run by volunteers and has no other agenda.

The health benefits include halting the spread of mold, scabies, and bed bugs. The most significant is the mental health boost. People tend to hand around for the hour it takes to wash and dry their clothes. Plus the opportunity to take a shower and not have to worry about privacy and safety is an amazing bonus.

They now have 27 laundry and shower vans operating in Australia. They use generators and solar power to operate the machines. They do 15-20 laundry loads and showers each day. This model is expanding in other countries in Asia, UK and USA.

Cleaning up: mobile laundry for the homeless goes international https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/nov/06/cleaning-up-mobile-laundry-for-the-homeless-goes-international?utm_term=RWRpdG9yaWFsX1RoZVVwc2lkZS0xODExMDk%3D&utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=TheUpside&CMP=upside_email

Orange Sky vans visit parks and drop-in centres in Australia and New Zealand

A mobile laundry and shower service for the homeless has begun international expansion after being inundated with requests from struggling cities around the globe.

Four years ago two young Australian men saw a gap in the market and fitted out a van with a washer and dryer, driving it to parks, churches and drop-in centres in a bid to bring hygiene services to the homeless community on their own turf.

Lucas Patchett, co-founder of Orange Sky, said washing was initially viewed as a low priority for the community, and there was widespread scepticism about the plan.

“When we dreamed this up it was a world first, and we had a lot of practical issues to overcome. How would we power the machines, where would we dispose of the waste water?” says Patchett.

“But we strongly believed that access to hygiene was a basic human right.”

There are more than 100,000 homeless Australians, and the population has complex needs. Patchett says Orange Sky has been able to forge bonds with the community by bringing the vans to its doorstep, and because it has no agenda besides the straightforward, free services it offers.

Health benefits of the mobile laundry include halting the spread of mould, scabies and bed bugs, but Patchett says it is the mental health boost that is most significant.

“We’re not preaching anything, or teaching anything or pushing anything. But it does take an hour to wash and dry someone’s clothes and during that time people tend to hang around. That’s when the conversations start.

“Ninety-nine percent of the day, these people are walked past and ignored and not even looked at, and that can have a huge impact on psyche and sense of self-worth. So we just say g’day and offer something really practical that makes people immediately feel more confident to engage with the broader society.”

There are now 27 Orange Sky laundry and shower vans operating in Australia, using generators and solar power to run the machines. Operated by volunteers, they do around 15-20 laundry loads and showers each day.

Last month Orange Sky expanded overseas, unveiling a van in Auckland, New Zealand, with plans to venture to the US next.

It costs around NZ$100,000 (£51,235) to kit out a laundry and shower van.

A number of other mobile laundry services have launched around the world, including in several US states, Brighton in the UK and Athens, Greece, where 20,000 people are homeless. Orange Sky has also been asked to provide services to Singapore, Hong Kong and other British cities.

According to Auckland council, at least 1,000 people sleep rough in New Zealand’s biggest city every night, and Orange Sky’s expansion has been welcomed by those caring for the community, saying the service has been embraced.

The New Zealand housing and urban development minister, Phil Twyford, said Orange Sky offered rough sleepers something many New Zealanders took for granted, and was one part of giving them back their dignity and self-respect.

“While superficially the service is about clean clothes and showers, the main benefits are the social interactions,” said Twyford.

Mike, one of the first clients to use the Orange Sky van in Auckland, said it was a relief to be able to wash his clothes and bedding, as well as himself, on a regular basis.

“It is a bit tricky, it’s hard enough to find somewhere to live and something to eat, let alone find a place to wash your clothes and have a wash,” he said.

“I think it’s a good concept … and it has a roll-on effect. Your clothes are clean, you’re clean and you feel good about yourself.”

Patchett says homeless women find the service particularly valuable, as many struggle finding a safe place to shower in privacy.

“There was a woman who came to shower and she said she hadn’t had a safe space to do that for a number of years,” says Patchett.

“And even just being locked in the back of a van with volunteers out the front really gave her some peace of mind.”

Another man who had not showered for more than four months moved his social worker to tears when he climbed into the back of the Orange Sky van for a few minutes of privacy and relaxation.

Cities in New Zealand such as Wellington, Whangarei and Christchurch have been in touch requesting Orange Sky services in their towns, and Patchett says with enough funding and volunteers, the service will soon spread countrywide.

Other stories

Dentists volunteering to give homeless people a set of dentures – https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/nov/08/filling-the-gaps-why-homeless-does-not-have-to-mean-toothless?utm_term=RWRpdG9yaWFsX1RoZVVwc2lkZS0xODExMDk%3D&utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=TheUpside&CMP=upside_email

The world’s swankiest soup kitchen in Rio de Janeiro. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2018/nov/05/more-than-a-meal-swanky-rio-de-janeiro-restaurant-for-homeless-people-refettorio-gastromotiva?utm_term=RWRpdG9yaWFsX1RoZVVwc2lkZS0xODExMDk%3D&utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=TheUpside&CMP=upside_email

To what extent does childhood trauma follow the individual through into adult life? And can anything be done about it? Lauren Zanolli found out. https://www.theguardian.com/world/commentisfree/2018/nov/07/ace-adverse-childhood-experience trauma?utm_term=RWRpdG9yaWFsX1RoZVVwc2lkZS0xODExMDk%3D&utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=TheUpside&CMP=upside_email

These are some of many stories from a wide variety of sources and a multitude of forms contributed by people upon request for my 70th birthday.   They are posted without editing, with the attribution that was with them.  I will be posting these regularly until they run out next year sometime: if you have others to add, please send them to me.

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Thankfulness: Del Morrill’s Story: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference


Journal writing on Monday, November 14, 2011, 6:50 am, (Re-sent date 11/22/2018)

It all started with the blowing of my nose!

For some reason this morning, I’m more aware of what we in this country been given to make life more comfortable, and that probably is unavailable to a good many people on this earth.  The simple act of blowing my nose on a soft tissue, and the availability of toilet paper, stirred my thoughts.  So many amazing amenities in life have been created to ease me.

I lie in a warm bed with soft sheets of T-shirt-type material. A carpet lies next to the bed across the floor to make my feet feel warmer when I step out of bed. I’m able to write with just about any type of pen I wish. Someone has put lined papers together into creating this tidy book to make journal-writing even more pleasant. The newspaper lies here ready for me to read at my leisure. Coffee in the mug next to me warms me, as does the man who brought it to me.  I have books to enjoy reading- -some most each day. 

The newspaper both relaxes me and stirs my anger juices, keeping me aware.  Nearby is a TV set if I wish to get stirred further.  In front of me are the closet doors that hide any number of choices of things to wear.  And my breakfast will consist of any one of about three choices I like – more, if I really wanted them. I become acutely aware that all around the world are those who rise to the same outfit of clothing and the same thing to eat – pprobably a single dish, if at all lucky. 

As I continue to look around the room in which I’ve awakened, and consider the start of my day, I can’t help thinking, in this strange mood that has taken over me, of all the many people present in this very room by means of the energy they have put into all the things around me that make me more comfortable. Are they comfortable too?  Do they get enough to eat?  Are they warm?  Do they have some of the things around them that ease their lives?  I dearly hope so.  But the niggling thought within me is that probably many of them do not.  I sincerely thank all of those who do have them – and all of those who do not have them, who are keeping me aware of that fact!

I started to close this book for the day, yet can’t stop the thoughts coming into my mind, as well.  For I find myself recalling all of the people in my nearly 79 years (now 86 this month) who have enriched my life in one way or another – my family, of course, and its extensions and the heritage of all those who came before me; those who helped raise me, tolerated me, taught me as I grew into adult-hood; those I worked with – some who enlightened me, some who angered me, and others who hurt me; friends who came and went and others who have stayed in my life.

All have enriched and educated me, helping evolve into this imperfect human being who has never been willing to just sit back and accept all of life the way it is, yet who has come to be somewhat less judgmental about it.  This one who has less physical energy to do much about the inequities of life, yet still suffers over them; who has a lot less dissatisfaction, and less need to have answers to all of the unanswerables in life, yet still questions, at the same time, about that which she knows she can’t change.  She’s the one who must caution herself when she begins to question how others choose to live their lives and sit on the rising cynicism when she listens to politicians and watches a dysfunctional congress.  And then, turns instead to the aspects of life in which she knows she has the capacity to affect in a positive way. 

I’m grateful for the journey I’ve taken thus far in this brief span of life – a fantastic family of individuals who have decided to be positive forces in this world rather than contribute to its decay; an array of colleagues and friends, some of whom continue to enrich my life, regardless of whether we agree on everything; my clients who keep teaching me about courage and endurance through sometimes the most unbelievable struggles that are beyond anything I have ever had to experience in my own life.

And, despite a few aches and pains and occasional spells in the hospital, I’m grateful for this body that has gone through so much for so many years, yet continues to carry me forward long after I thought it should have given up. 

For the most basic things that sustain life, I give special thanks this year, and for all that is beyond the basic sustenance that has enriched my soul. 

And, today, and forever, for each person who has participated in that journey with me, including you, I do thank you.


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Deb Burnight’s Story: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

By her brother Rick Morain  

When Bob Ray died back in July at the age of 89, I wrote about his successful 14-year stint as a popular governor of Iowa. The column mentioned Ray’s salvation of thousands of Hmong refugees who were desperately fleeing persecution and hardship in Vietnam in the 1970s. Ray opened the state of Iowa to them.

The column omitted another of Ray’s finest hours, and I want to make amends. It’s a story that still resonates 39 years later.

In October 1979, Ray and a top aide, Ken Quinn, joined a group of American governors on a trip to China. Quinn had served as U.S. ambassador to Cambodia in the early 1970s, and he and Ray obtained permission for a side trip to a spot in Thailand near the Cambodian border.

Their destination was a large makeshift camp — actually no more than an open field — to which 30,000 exhausted and traumatized Cambodian refugees had fled in their desperate escape from the Killing Fields of Cambodia’s leader Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge communist warriors.

The Khmer Rouge were committing genocide. They killed two million of Cambodia’s seven million souls.

What Ray and Quinn saw there was unbelievable.

The refugees had no food, no shelter and precious few possessions.

Men, women and children were dying from starvation and other causes in the camp, 30 to 50 a day.

Ray personally saw five people die.

Shocked, he and Quinn upon their return were interviewed by Jefferson native David Yepsen, at that time a reporter for the Des Moines Register. Yepsen’s story was the lead on the front page of the Register the next day, together with jaw-dropping photos of refugees that Ray had snapped at the Thailand camp.

Back in the governor’s office the next day, Ray talked with staff members about what Iowa could do to help. Quinn came up with Iowa SHARES: Iowa Sends Help to Aid Refugees and End Starvation.

The plan was simple: ask the people of Iowa to donate money to buy food and other aid for the refugees.

The response was classic Iowan.

Michael Gartner, editor of the Register, called Ray to say that whatever the state undertook, the Register’s editorial pages would support, and the news columns sent the word across the state. An interfaith coalition of religious leaders — Catholic, Protestant and Jewish — came out in full endorsement.

Iowa Public Television’s Mary Jane Odell and Dan Miller helped publicize the effort. Well-known Des Moines leaders, like Roxanne Conlin, Sheldon Rabinowitz, A. Arthur Davis and Bruce Campbell, stepped up to help do the details.

And Iowans sent money. Boy, did they send money.

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, envelopes came rolling into the governor’s office with cash and checks, over $125,000 in five weeks.

Over the next two years, some $550,000 was raised from small contributions from thousands of Iowans, the equivalent of about $2 million in 2018 dollars. A youngster sent in his Christmas money. A woman sent her wedding rings, noting that she had little money but “the Cambodians really need our help.” (Her rings were returned to her, and a cash contribution was made in her name.)

A dozen Iowa doctor and nurse volunteers sped to the camp on the Thailand – Cambodia border to provide life-saving health care to the refugees.

The caravan of food trucks from Iowa SHARES reached the camp on Christmas Day 1979.

On Monday this week, Ambassador Quinn, now president of the World Food Prize Foundation headquartered in Des Moines, honored 14 individuals and organizations that helped make Iowa SHARES such a success. They received the 2018 Robert D. Ray Iowa SHARES Humanitarian Award.

I had a call from Quinn a couple weeks ago. He said he recalled that the Jefferson Bee and Herald had been one of the first Iowa weekly newspapers to spread the word about Iowa SHARES.

He wanted to honor the Bee and Herald for doing so, and invited me to attend the ceremony to receive one of the awards.

I told Quinn that I very much appreciated his offer, but that I didn’t recall that we had done any special publicity of the effort back in 1979.

Quinn was adamant.

He said he had been impressed that a weekly would jump in so soon with the effort, and he was determined to present the award.

So I went to the Jefferson Public Library and enlisted the help of librarian Jane Millard in finding the 1979 articles in the online storage of the newspapers.

As it turned out, Quinn’s memory was better than mine. The Bee and Herald had publicized Iowa SHARES with several articles, including a fine “Cogitations of an Old Codger” column by Fred Morain. Dad had retired as editor-publisher in 1976, but had begun his weekly column.

So Kathy and I attended the awards luncheon at the Downtown Marriott in Des Moines on Monday, and Quinn honored the Bee and Herald with the award, along with 13 other recipients, all of whom had much more to do with the success of Iowa SHARES than I did.

In Quinn’s defense, he wanted to include as many groups that helped out as possible, and that included weekly newspapers. I appreciated that, and accepted the award on behalf of the many weeklies that stepped up back in 1979.

Ray’s effort didn’t wipe out hunger, of course.

That scourge continues today, even in Iowa. Statistics show that hundreds of thousands of Iowans aren’t certain they will have enough to eat from day to day.

As winter approaches, here and elsewhere, the best way to honor Bob Ray and the spirit of Iowa generosity that he embodied is to help hungry people today. There’s no shortage of recipient choices, from the local food pantry and low-income students in the school’s lunch program to refugees from drought and violence around the world.

We can’t alleviate all hunger. But we can help with some.

Food is closely identified with Iowa around the world, and we can certainly share some of it. 

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David Burman’s Story: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

As you know I have been involved with Indigenous world view and regeneration for a long time, and as the situation becomes more dire, my focus has also sharpened. 

I have come to the conclusion that the present manifestation of the suicidal economic system is a product of the ideology of colonialism, which has become an addiction to consumerism and growth even at the expense of life itself. I am coming to see for the first time that as Mother Earth is a living being she can die. As we continue to strip her forests, it’s as if we are cutting out part of her lungs every day. We are poisoning her blood, polluting her breath and fracturing her bones for ancient hydrocarbons that we use to poison her even further. 

At the same time, I see that I am not alone in my assessment. Wonderful thinkers like Diane Beresford-Kroeger and Charles Eisenstein present challenges and direction for change.

All around me movements of change are burgeoning. The Story of Separation from ourselves, each other and the natural world, espoused by the Enlightenment is becoming untenable. Joanna Macey’s The Work that Reconnects addresses the disease of separation through workshops around the continent. I have participated in the work of Otto Scharmer and Peter Senge in a mooc that has reached over 40,000 people from 192 countries learning how to listen deeply to those who do not normally have a voice, and act on that understanding. I am involved with Project Drawdown that has a science driven plan to reverse global warming by 2050 that has been taken on by the Pachamama Alliance – bringing an Indigenous world view of reciprocal relationships with the Earth to the dominant society. 

Most personally, I have been teaching a course called Indigenous Issues in Health and Healing for 26  years, and this past year for the first time I have engaged the students in addressing colonization in a practical way, requiring them to begin the self-reflective process of decolonizing themselves before allying themselves with Indigenous decolonizing initiatives. It was a risk. I had no idea if, especially the science students would take to it, of if the Indigenous Studies students would find it redundant. 

I was tremendously gratified to learn that it worked, despite all the flaws inherent in rejigging a previously successful framework. 

Now I am involved with an initiative of Indigenous people to restore and protect the Humber River watershed, through ceremony and restoration of traditional governance – to restore mino-bimaadiwin a life well led in harmony and balance, starting with the land vacated by the former Kodak plant and the Black Creek community. 

This year will be a year of radical transformation. We humans are very good at responding to crisis – the more immediate, the greater the response. We are coming to understand that Mother Earth is not a metaphor, that water is indeed life, that wealth need not be confused with money, nor quality of life with standard of living. We are gaining the courage to open our hearts so that we can listen to the sound of the Earth crying; we weep with her, and in alliance begin the heroic, and deeply satisfying work of healing. 

This is one of many stories from a wide variety of sources and a multitude of forms contributed by people upon request for my 70th birthday.   They are posted without editing, with the attribution that was with them.  I will be posting these regularly until they run out next year sometime: if you have others to add, please send them to me.

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Catherine Rockandel’s Stories: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

I facilitate community dialogues on homelessness and supportive housing. These are often emotionally charged meetings as a good percentage of neighbours assume that most homeless are drug addicted people they see pushing shopping carts. This is such a small percentage of the actual homeless. The individuals with lived experience I meet are emerging from difficult journeys that have led them to places of shame and pain. These individuals are insightful, direct, and have retained a great sense of humour. Over the past year one particular session stands out. The neighbours were opposed to a supportive housing development in their neighbourhood and within a couple of miles BC Housing was also looking at land to locate a shelter that had been in a church basement. The first few meetings were emotionally charged with most opposing and denying that these people could be from their community. Until at one meeting a petite woman with grey hair stood up. People in the audience called out and said hello. She said, “most of you know me. I am miss —— and have been the kindergarten teacher for 25 years in the community. What most of you don’t know is that in January (it was June) my landlord evicted me as he wanted his son to use the apartment. I have been homeless and living in my van down by the beach while I look after your children.” Well you could have heard a pin drop in this cultural centre with 300 people in it. A few people sobbed and said “oh no”. Anyway to make a long story short …some people said we can’t let this happen. Several more meetings and the community had identified a place for the shelter (a closed backpackers hotel that BC Housing could lease) and unanimously approved the other supportive housing development and started fundraising for clothing, food etc to support homeless in their community. 

The second story I will share was told to me at the IAP2 Canada conference in Victoria. The IAP2 conference committee sponsored two lovely ladies from Kenya to attend the conference through an IAP2 Canada program . They presented about their work in Kenya which they do off the side of their desks at the University with a couple of thousand dollars in funding. If you look at this project, it is amazing. They have engaged the community to repair a de-forested hill and create economic return for families by planting trees. The community has been able to address issues related to climate change and man made impacts. They have made a difference in peoples lives with so little money. 

This is one of many stories from a wide variety of sources and a multitude of forms contributed by people upon request for my 70th birthday.   They are posted without editing, with the attribution that was with them.  I will be posting these regularly until they run out next year sometime: if you have others to add, please send them to me.

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Dave Strong’s Story: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

Picture This…..

When I started to think about ordinary people who are making a difference in people’s lives my first thought went to a group that I volunteer with as a facilitator.  But my story is not about me or my involvement but rather about somebody I observed with this group who on the surface seems to have a minor role but when you dig a little deeper you see that their impact is much greater.  First a little about the organization.   It is a Newfoundland based organization that provides services to adults who face barriers to fully participating in their community.  These barriers could be due to addiction, mental health challenges, poverty, homelessness, low literacy, long periods of unemployment or involvement in criminal justice.  They help by providing counselling, jobs, housing and a sense of place in the community.  While they get some government funding much of their revenue comes from operating several social enterprises and private donations, both financial and in-kind, from the public.  My story is about a photographer and the profound impact that he’s had on the organization and most importantly the people they serve.  

For many years now they’ve had a choir that meets regularly to sing solely for the love of singing.  The choir members are program participants, staff and some volunteer instrumental accompanists from time to time.  Anyone who sings in a choir can speak to the impact that being part of it can have.  Sure there is a chemical reaction in the brain that releases hormones that are pleasurable but it goes well beyond that.  The sense of being part of a group that is willing to put themselves out there to sing, even if you aren’t particularly good at it, is powerful.  This choir did some public performances in the past but on a limited basis as they exist for their enjoyment, not for show.

A few years ago a group of locals were organizing a Christmas fundraiser for the local food bank as part of a national tour that singer and actor Tom Jackson does known as the Huron Carole.  The show was booked in the best performance space in the province and was a top tier billed gig.  They started looking for an opening act and after throwing out several high profile local artists who wanted to take part somebody said “how about a choir and they can do a big closing with Tom…how cool would that look?”.  There were many local choirs to choose from but it didn’t take long for somebody to suggest getting the choir of the this organization.  At first the choir was hesitant to take part.  They never did anything this big.  Would people feel intimidated by the space and opening up for such a big act?  Would there be enough time to practice?  Organizers assured them they wanted the choir because they were a great choir, a great fit, and they would be given the same treatment as every other artist on the bill.  After much consideration they agreed.  Show day came and the choir was brought to their private dressing room that, as with all other artists, included the VIP experience with food, comfortable seating, and rehearsal space.  They were delighted with their star treatment and their performance brought the house down.  It was a highlight of the tour for Tom and the other performers.  

A professional photographer, David Hiscock, was part of the event.  He was there capturing the show before, during and after for all of the performers.  He shared some photos he took of the choir with the organization who in turned shared them with the choir.  They were over the moon with the results!  They always took pictures of their events, mostly on phones as people do these days, but having a high quality photo taken through the creative eye of a professional made all the difference.  The participants saw things they didn’t see before.  How they looked on stage, how they interacted with each other and the absolute joy of singing and being part of this group was captured for all to see.  Suddenly how they viewed themselves in the context of the choir, and likely how they viewed themselves as individuals, changed.   When this was told to the photographer he was modest and just said “I’m only taking pictures” but what he didn’t realize is that most of the people in the choir never had a professional picture taken before and certainly not in a performance setting.   As a result of that first event with Tom Jackson David has become a volunteer with the organization photographing all of their happenings. There has been a marked change in the level of participation at their events and the pride that participants have in what they do and in themselves has grown, in part, from the simple act of having a photographer present who was able to show people what the rest of the world sees.  As the CEO of the group said “I have seen how someone smiles brighter because their photo is being taken and how thrilled they are to receive a good photo of themselves.  That is something most of our folks never get”. 

This is one of many stories from a wide variety of sources and a multitude of forms contributed by people upon request for my 70th birthday.   They are posted without editing, with the attribution that was with them.  I will be posting these regularly until they run out next year sometime: if you have others to add, please send them to me.

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Carole Brown’s Story: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

I have had the good fortune to have a career in nutrition service so I have had opportunity to see people from many “walks of life” give of themselves frequently whether it’s reading to an ill person, taking them to therapy, checking on their family and pets, making sure a child goes home from day care to a safe place, etc..

One of the largest “kitchen table efforts” that I can think of locally is the Honor Flights which take veterans to Washington, D.C. to view war memorials, socialize, etc.  These flights began about 10- 12 years ago when somebody was visiting with World War II veterans and from that conversation realized that many of these people had not been recognized or had seen the memorials, so word got out, money was raised, professionals and laypersons volunteered to accompany them, hotels reservations meeting special needs were made, wheel chairs, nutrition and oxygen needs and many other needs were accommodated.  All this came together by word of mouth spreading to somebody who knew somebody who could had knowledge about whatever the challenge was that they needed to address.  That original flight grew per requests from others for WWII vets in the whole state of Nebraska, and then Western Iowa was included.  Then someone said “What about the Korean vets?” & then it was the Vietnam vets & then Desert Storm & so on. Recently there was a flight for women in service, and another is being planned for some other category.  I think there’s been 12 flights in all.

The other contribution that I recall is a lady taking meals on occasion to people she knew who had a short term need.  Word spread and requests were made to help others so these people volunteered to deliver them, donate for the food cost and help in other ways, and now it’s quite a large production.

This is one of many stories from a wide variety of sources and a multitude of forms contributed by people upon request for my 70th birthday.   They will be posted without editing, with the attribution that was with them.  I will be posting these regularly until they run out next year sometime: if you have others to add, please send them to me.

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