By Troy Moon, Pensacola State College
That wasn’t Santa’s sleigh stuffed with cold-weather gifts for needy veterans parked outside the Veterans Affairs Clinic in Warrington.
No, it was Ben Freeman’s Dodge Ram pickup truck – borrowed from his dad. But it was packed so tightly with decorated boxes filled with gifts that hospital officials had to fetch a dolly and some veteran volunteers to wheel it all inside.
Freeman and fellow Pensacola State College dual enrollment student Sydney Bates delivered the gifts on behalf of the Milton campus Phi Theta Kappa honors society chapter, which collected the donated items in recent months.
On Wednesday, Bates and Freeman, both 17 years old, brought in the haul:
• 695 pairs of socks
• 59 blankets and robes
• 12 jackets
• 10 sweaters
• 11 pairs of pants
• 16 ties
• 8 pairs of sunglasses
• 57 hats
• 62 pairs of gloves
• 32 scarves
Bates and Freeman also delivered 480 Christmas cards that the group had created for veterans.
“It was a good year,” said Carol Hulse, advisor for the Milton campus PTK Beta Beta Gamma chapter. “We do this every year where they make these gift bags for homeless and needy veterans.”
Bates said she comes from a military family and “wanted to do something to honor veterans and help those in need.”
Freeman said he wanted to be part of the delivery because of “the huge respect” he has for “everyone who has served.”
Veterans Affairs officials were impressed. Not just because of the deed. But because of the massive haul. Large decorated boxes in the Ram’s truck bed were stuffed with clothing for veterans.
Michael Grey, volunteer services coordinator for the Veterans Affairs Clinic, called for more veterans to help bring in the load.
And when the truck’s bed was unpacked, Freeman told him there were plenty more packages inside the truck.
“There’s more?” asked a surprised Grey. “I’m going to need another dolly.”
Grey said the items would be distributed to needy and/or homeless veterans that the Veterans Affairs cares for.
“There’s always a need,” Grey said. “And it’s awesome that these young people commit to doing this. That’s one of the things we like most – when schools get together and so all these creative things to help veterans.”
In the photo: Milton Phi Theta Kappa members Sydney Bates and Ben Freeman deliver gifts to veterans at the Veterans Affairs Clinic in Warrington.