Making the holidays bright for veterans

For the past six years, Harrisburg's American Legion Post and Auxiliary No. 523 have worked on a community project that benefits ailing veterans and military servicemen and women.

Volunteers will collect personal care items and toiletries through Dec. 7. The items will be packaged in gift bags and distributed to patients of the VA Medical Center and N.C. State Veterans Nursing Home in Salisbury, as well as those in Harrisburg nursing homes.

The groups created 100 gift bags the first year and have assembled 200 gift bags each of the past five years. Gift bags will be packaged Dec. 9 and delivered to the Salisbury locations Dec. 10. Gift bags for Harrisburg residents will be delivered after Dec. 10.

The personal care items and everyday toiletries that the volunteers collect are some of the most requested items by hospital staff, who say many patients can't afford to buy the items themselves.

"First of all, their eyes light up and they smile," said Janice MacLeod, secretary for the Harrisburg auxiliary unit, about delivering the gift bags. "Some of them are able to put it into words, and some just squeeze your hand because they're not able to express anything else. But they're thankful and you can see it in their faces."

When gift bags are delivered, volunteers also play bingo with recipients and have a sandwich-and-dessert lunch. It's a formula that's win-win for everybody.

"It's pretty much the same as it's always been," said MacLeod. "We're just sticking with what has worked in the past. But through the course of the six years, we've learned what's worked and what has not."

MacLeod said many worthy efforts are happening throughout the county, but she is encouraging people not to forget the ones who have already sacrificed to give us our freedom.

"No doubt, many organizations are soliciting support for various causes at this time of the year, but we feel there is no group more deserving of thanks and small gifts than the men and women who serve and have served to protect our country and its freedom," said MacLeod.