When the Southold Interact Club attended a Rotary Youth Leadership Awards conference last year and the students learned that there are thousands of homeless veterans statewide, many of whom are on Long Island and in need of basic necessities, they decided to help.
Lonnie Sherman, president and founder of General Need — a nonprofit organization that assists veterans — spoke at the conference. Mr. Sherman inspired the students to give back to his organization and they discussed ways they could help.
On Thursday afternoon, Mr. Sherman, along with his wife Susan, a co-founder of the organization, came to Southold High School to pick up four bins of donated packages of socks, shirts and underwear as well as a $500 check from the Southold Fire Department.
“This was a small thing that we could do and it went really well,” said Virginia Gilmore, one of the advisors of the Interact Club.
The club decided to place bins around the school for students to donate items. Students reached out to the pharmacy, which put a bin out and then fellow Southold teacher Theresa Rich brought the idea back to the fire department where she volunteers as the department’s secretary.
Ms. Rich said the department offered to donate money.
“I thought that was a very generous gift and for a very good cause,” said Ms. Rich, who noted that many members of the Southold Fire Department are veterans themselves.
The president of the Interact Club, senior Althea Mignone, said she was impressed with how much they were able to give.
“I think we do really well for a small town,” she said. “I thought it was really important because it’s something you don’t think about, there are so many people who don’t have basic necessities.”
Mr. Sherman said he is happy to see the kids at Southold understand the importance of the cause. His organization has a reach all across Long Island and even into New Jersey.
Started in 2008, the organization collects shirts, underwear and socks that are donated to different shelters. Mr. Sherman said they also do different seasonal donations, like last year when they collected 750 pairs of new boots for veterans and collections for coats, hats and scarves during the winter.
“There are major causes and major needs all over the country but why not start in our own backyard helping our own men and women that have done a lot for us,” Mr. Sherman said.
He added that he finds himself in Riverhead more often now helping to create “bed kits” for veterans who recently received housing through the HUD-VASH program, a supportive housing program for veterans.
Bed kits include things like fresh blankets, pillows, sheets, pots and pans or any other basic necessity for an apartment.
While Mr. Sherman has been expanding as far out as Riverhead for a while, he is happy to expand even farther east and to have the help of high school students.
“They understand the fact that we need to support these men and women who have done a lot for us,” he said.
Top photo caption: Members of the Southold Interact Club, the Southold Fire Department, the Rotary and the founders of General Needs. (Credit: Krysten Massa)