Inspired Riverhead area residents helping veterans

Here’s a story in which one good deed leads to another and then another, with homeless veterans benefiting from them all.

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Liz Stokes, right, and Thelma Booker, second from left, have been collecting food and clothing for residents of The Veterans Place, a shelter for homeless veterans in Yaphank. They were joined at the Yaphank facility Friday by veterans and Dana Rollins, left, of the Tyre Lodge in Flanders, which also has been collecting items for the shelter.

About a month ago, on Veterans Day, Riverside resident Chris Cuddihy ran for 24 hours straight throughout downtown Riverhead to raise money and awareness for The Veterans Place, a Yaphank shelter for homeless vets. He raised about $1,500.

Meanwhile, over at Riverhead Free Library, circulation director Liz Stokes and resident Thelma Booker were once again doing their annual food drive, called “One Town, One Family,” which benefits local food pantries.

The food drive takes place throughout November, and when Ms. Stokes read a News-Review story about Mr. Cuddihy’s efforts to help The Veterans Place, she and Ms. Booker decided to help out The Veterans Place.

“Thelma and I brought down several boxes of donated food in honor of Veterans Day,” Mr. Stokes said.

After making that visit, “we were hooked” as supporters, she said. Now the women are planning to head to Yaphank with Christmas presents for the vets. And while their food drive ended in November, Ms. Stokes and Ms. Booker have continued bringing donated food and other items to The Veterans Place.

“Since that visit, we’ve brought down coats, shoes, boots, and we hope to bring some blankets,” Ms. Stokes said. Ms. Stokes said she and Ms. Booker have made five visits to The Veterans Place and don’t plan on stopping.

“We’ve brought over 1,000 items,” Ms. Booker said.

The Tyre Chapter in Riverside, a fraternal organization of which Ms. Booker is a member, also got involved. “Our chapter collected things, and we made 23 gift bags of food and 23 gift bags of toiletries and socks,” said Dana Rollins, who heads the chapter. She brought those items to The Veterans Place on Friday.

The Riverhead Moose Lodge also has been collecting for The Veterans Place, Ms. Booker said.

On top of that, when Ms. Stokes was working in the library last week and happened to mention to a library patron that she was collecting items for the Yaphank shelter, the man took out his checkbook and, on the spot, wrote out a check for $300 to The Veterans Place. He gave it to Ms. Stokes and said, “Tell them Merry Christmas.”

“It’s beautiful,” said Wilkens Young, the director of programs at The Veterans Place, which is run by the Suffolk County United Veterans group. “I’m really appreciative of all the help we get from outside sources that feel we’re worthy of their help. Especially now, with the economy being the way it is. We’re trying to make sure everybody is being provided for. We want people to feel that they’re not alone.”

Mr. Young also was appreciative of Mr. Cuddihy’s efforts, which started it all.

“Chris did an excellent job,” he said. “I love his spirit.”

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