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VA Clothing Closet ensures that no veteran goes without clean clothing

A look inside the clothing room at the American Lake VA campus. Photo credit: Susan Melnyk

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On March 4, 1865, Abraham Lincoln made his second inaugural address during the throes of the Civil War. "To care for him who shall have borne the battle ..." was Lincoln's promise to a nation of veterans and their families and would become the vision statement of the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) with its responsibility to provide vital services to America's veterans.

The commitment to this motto is evident at the Veterans Health Administration's Puget Sound American Lake Division and in their Veterans Clothing Closet, an important part of providing care for homeless veterans and veterans in need.  New and gently used donations of jeans, shirts, jackets, sweaters and shoes help to ensure that veterans of all ages and from all branches of the military have a supply of clean clothing when in need.

The volunteer-based Clothing Closet is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and located at building 18 on the American Lake VA campus.  Veterans receive a voucher from their doctor or social worker and are able to pick out a variety of items from the closet at no cost.  Volunteers work with veterans to find their sizes and supply them with a supply of new socks, undershirts and briefs as well as soap, toothbrushes and other toiletries.

All donated clothing is accepted and processed through the Voluntary Services office in building 9 on the American Lake campus.  Though new clothing is greatly appreciated by the volunteers and veterans alike, gently used clothing is thoroughly washed before being placed on the shelves and racks that line the clothing room and are an important part of keeping the room stocked in all sizes so no veteran is turned away.

"We are always in need of jeans, shoes, shirts and jackets," said Mel Frakes, a long-time VA volunteer who has taken the Veterans Clothing Closet project under his wing.

Volunteers ask that donations be free of rips, holes, stains and missing buttons.  Shoes should be in good condition and can include dress, casual or athletic shoes.  Undergarments and socks are purchased new by donations made directly to the VA.

The project is made possible by the generous donations from the community and the hardworking volunteers that keep the clothing room doors open each week, many of whom are veterans or military spouses themselves.

"Our volunteers are all ages, but many are in their sixties, seventies, eighties and up.  Some are veterans themselves and many have family members who have served," said Rex Rimando, voluntary services specialist at the American Lake VA campus.

The American Lake VA is looking for volunteers for their Navigator and Shuttle Driver programs as well as the E-Team, which handles mail delivery on the campus. "The main thing is people who have a good heart and who really want to give back," Rimando explained.

To make a monetary donation or to schedule a time to drop off donated clothing, contact Rex Rimando by email at  Groups are also invited to email Rex if they would like to take part in a service activity at the campus.

To become a volunteer at the VA, go to  Volunteers undergo a background check and are provided a meal ticket for the campus cafeteria when they work over four hours in a day.

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