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Military veterans line up for help as Union Grove nonprofit searches for the right formula

The Journal Times - 1/2/2024

Jan. 2—UNION GROVE — A center for military veterans in need is rebounding from a few setbacks, while also working to keep pace with high demand for services.

Ground Zero Veterans Outreach opened two years ago at 1011 Main St. in Union Grove as a place where veterans could get help with housing, food and other basic supplies.

The nonprofit center has a waiting list of veterans needing various kinds of assistance, and is averaging one homeless veteran a week who is seeking help to find a place to live.

Ground Zero volunteers not only work to find homes or apartments that are available for rent, but they also deliver couches, beds and other furnishings to help a veteran get settled.

The group's name "Ground Zero" signifies that many former members of the military arrive at the Union Grove center with almost nothing in their pockets and nowhere else to turn.

Donna Kelly, secretary/treasurer of the group, said veterans visit the organization's storefront thrift shop every day, and most find clothing or other supplies to help keep them safe and comfortable.

"We want to take care of them the best we can," she said. "It warms my heart."

But the Ground Zero organization itself has needed help in recent months, and still is looking for support.

The group's thrift store suffered damage in November when an upstairs apartment flooded, sending water down to soak much of the merchandise on display in the store.

Then the veterans organization learned that it was losing a warehouse where furniture and other goods are stored.

Without storage space, Ground Zero might have to temporarily scale back its housing services, at a time when cold weather is increasing the urgency to provide safe housing for clients. Temporary storage units would cost about $300 a month.

Greg Nowak, vice president of the group, said he and others are considering logistic alternatives, such as accepting furniture and furnishings only when a client is ready to move into an apartment or home.

"We're trying to rethink our plan and streamline it a little bit," Nowak said.

Other veterans on the current Ground Zero waiting list are looking for wheelchairs, clothing and food.

An account has been created at GoFundMe with the goal of raising $50,000 to help keep the veterans center going. More than $2,000 has been pledged.

Christine Luxem, president and founder of the organization, said she has dreams of creating group homes where veterans can live. But she said fundraising remains a challenge, and she could use a little help to keep Ground Zero operating.

"It's getting pretty tight," Luxem said.

Officials said they are pleased that so many veterans are coming forward to ask for help, and that steady donations have kept the thrift shop stocked with clothing, home decor, books, electronics, games and furnishings.

Donations of merchandise that can be stored in the thrift shop are still being accepted.

Even the flood that caused damage in November was not enough to keep Ground Zero down for very long.

Kelly said most the damage occurred in areas where clothing was displayed. When volunteers gathered the soaked merchandise for restoration, a laundromat owner offered free use of his equipment to wash and dry everything so it could quickly go back on the racks.

"There are some good people out there who are willing to help us get back on our feet," Kelly said.

In addition to donations and storage options, Ground Zero is looking for volunteers to help with the group's operations, such as collecting donations and moving goods around.

Even with recent setbacks, Nowak said, he is pleased to see so much success in meeting veterans' needs. This holiday season, volunteers delivered food baskets and hosted a Santa Claus event with hot cocoa and cookies.

Nowak likened the nonprofit startup to a new business that must make adjustments along the way. In addition to volunteers, he is searching for grant funding to support the mission.

For now, one thing is certain: Ground Zero has identified a significant need for veteran services.

"It's been almost overwhelming," he said.


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