Program benefits veterans in nursing homes

Fourteen years ago, a Medora couple started a project at Christmastime to provide veterans living in nursing homes in Jackson County with some much-needed personal hygiene items.

Wayne and Judy Gilbert would purchase those items, which included soap, shampoo, a toothbrush, toothpaste and other essentials, and separate them into bags for each veteran. Then they would visit each nursing home to deliver the bags to the veterans.

Now, the Gilberts — who are both in their 80s — have decided to step back from organizing the effort each year. They have, however, found someone willing to take their place.

“This is a charity we have been doing every year for quite awhile now,” said Linda Eglen, exalted ruler of Seymour Elks Lodge 462.

The project meets one of the objectives of the Elks, member Julia Aker said.

“The Elks will never forget veterans,” she said. “We’re always trying to find projects that benefit local veterans.”

Eglen said the lodge has the money available to help veterans if they can find projects similar to the project started by the Gilberts, who plan to stay involved as long as possible.

This year, a group of nine volunteers gathered at Zabel Funeral Home in Brownstown on the night of Dec. 15 to put together bags, which now also include socks and blankets and other items, for 52 men and two women. This year’s bags contained 17 different items, Wayne said.

The Gilberts started the program after an employee in their floral shop in Brownstown asked for some time off at the end of the day more than 14 years ago.

“She said, ‘I have to go shopping for my grandfather,’” Judy said. “I asked her, ‘What do you mean for your grandfather?’ It scared me because I thought there was something wrong with him.”

The employee told the Gilberts that the family had to purchase some toiletries and other items that he wasn’t being supplied with at the nursing home.

That didn’t set right with Wayne, Judy said, so the Gilberts decided to purchase the items for the bags, which were smaller back then, the first couple of years before others in the community found out and started helping out monetarily.

The Elks started helping out a year or two later because Larry Spurgeon, who owned Spurgeon Funeral Home in Brownstown, was a member of the lodge, Aker said. That funeral home was used as the site where the bags were put together for years.

In recent years, Zabel Funeral Home Director and Owner Miko McRoy has provided his funeral home for the project.

Judy said helping veterans is passionate to her because Wayne is a veteran and her father-in-law was a career veteran who went around the world twice and served for 24 years and nine months. At one point, he was inside a submarine off Trinidad when it was almost hit by a torpedo.