Returning to civilian life isn’t always a welcome occasion for veterans. At times, it can become a hardship.From undiagnosed mental health issues to unpaid mortgage bills, some veterans face new battles when they get home.Yet many do not seek help.“A lot of it is pride,” Vietnam War veteran Reuben Flax said. “A lot of times they disconnect from society and fall on hard times.” Now a new organization is pairing up with the Mooresville Soup Kitchen to help educate disadvantaged veterans about the resources available to them to get back on their feet. And to kick the program off, The Military Order of the Purple Heart donated $500 to the soup kitchen Friday.The newly-formed group, the Iredell County Veterans Assistance Committee, will meet at least twice a month after hours at the soup kitchen. During that time, veterans will be able to get a hot meal and will also meet with volunteers who can tell them about Veterans Affairs services they qualify to receive. They’ll also provide the veterans with guidance on how to get a job, how to get basic medical assistance and more. “The only thing we can do is let them know what kind of help is out there for them and hope they take it,” Flax, who is a member of The Military Order of the Purple Heart, said. “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink it.”Veterans will also be able to go through the soup kitchen’s grocery line to get food for the week. And volunteers also plan to hand out toiletries and other necessities to homeless veterans. “So many don’t know how to get help and don’t know what to do. A lot of them are scared and very untrusting,” Debby Hoover, interim executive director of the Mooresville Soup Kitchen, said. “We have to provide a safe and comfortable environment for them.”Pete Meletis, an 81-year-old Korean War veteran who is commander of The Military Order of the Purple Heart, helped organize the Iredell County Veterans Assistance Committee to help homeless veterans and their families in Iredell and surrounding areas.He thought that veterans would be uniquely qualified to help other veterans who may be suffering.“Many are in despair. Many don’t have any hope,” Meletis said. “We wanted to entice them to come forth where we could help them to begin to help themselves.”It may be difficult at first to earn the trust of area veterans who feel jaded and who are having a hard time asking for help, he said.Some veterans feel so hopeless that for them, “the easiest thing for them to do is to leave and go back in the woods because it’s like they’re in the service again, living in combat conditions,” Meletis said.But Meletis said he won’t give up until every homeless veteran in the area gets the help they need.“We’re trying to do God’s work and help these veterans,” Meletis said. “Americans need to understand that freedom isn’t free. Somebody paid for our freedom, and it’s these veterans and we want to take care of them.”
Friday, Feb. 15, 2013
Helping veterans help themselves
Mooresville Soup Kitchen interim executive director Debby Hoover and Commander Pete Meletis with the Military Order of the Purple Heart discuss their new partnership aimed at helping homeless veterans. Elisabeth Arriero - earriero@charlotteobserver
Mooresville Soup Kitchen interim executive director Debby Hoover and Commander Pete Meletis with the Military Order of the Purple Heart discuss their new partnership aimed at helping homeless veterans.Elisabeth Arriero - earriero@charlotteobserver
Lisa Qualls, Todd Biggs, Ross Moore, Spencer Harrison, Pete Meletis, Reuben Flax and Debby Hoover are all working together to help homeless veterans visiting the Mooresville Soup Kitchen. Elisabeth Arriero - earriero@charlotteobserver
Individuals with the Military Order of the Purple Heart are teaming up with the Mooresville Soup Kitchen to help homeless veterans. Elisabeth Arriero - earriero@charlotteobserver
Learn more: For information, call Pete Meletis at 704-664-7766.