Home for vets, Food for Kids in need

Sue Guinn Legg • Jul 19, 2012 at 4:29 PM

A local nonprofit group that managed to recruit enough support through Internet networking to open and operate a five-bedroom transitional shelter for homeless veterans in Johnson City has been devastated by a change of its name brought on by a conflict with a marketing slogan used by the Army National Guard.

Sandra Gruber, director of the grass-roots group formerly known as “Citizens Soldiers,” said, despite a patent on the 501c3 nonprofit organization’s trademark, the National Guard filed suit against the group earlier this year because of the “Citizen Soldier” marketing campaign the Guard has used since 2003.

“It would have cost us $10,000 to hire a lawyer and fight it. So what do you do? We changed our name about six weeks ago,” she said.

Since the name change, contributions to support the shelter that were raised almost entirely through Facebook have all but dried up. “People don’t recognize us, even people who know us,” Gruber said.

In the shelter’s first year of operation, its Facebook page raised more than $18,000 that covered all utilities and the lease on the five-bedroom home at 702 E. Myrtle Ave., known as Langland House for Veterans, where five formerly homeless veterans not only have a home but the support they need to work their way back to self sufficiency.

Under its new name, “Hughes Homes for Heros,” the group has lost many of the Facebook friends who helped the shelter flourish. On Wednesday Gruber posted the following somber update: “We will be taking a break from the page for awhile. We are in the process of trying to keep the house open and are taking other avenues to try and bring donations in. We have not received any donations in over a week so, with that being said, there is a very good possibility we will be closing the Langland at the end of the month. We still have the electricity bill due in three days of $383. If we don’t raise that, I have no other alternative but to close and use the (electricity) deposit to pay the outstanding bills. Can anyone save us?”

For anyone who wishes to help, the new Hughes Homes for Veterans Facebook page includes a PayPal link for donations. Or donations may be made by mail to Hughes Homes for Veterans, 702 E. Myrtle Ave., Johnson City, TN 37601.

More information about the shelter and how to it help keep it in operation may be obtained by calling Gruber at 557-9059 or 631-0222 or emailing sandra.gruber98@yahoo.com.

Less than three weeks out from start of the new school year, Second Harvest Food Bank’s Food for Kids program is gearing up.

Last year the Food for Kids program regularly provided take-home packages of kid-friendly foods to more than 4,100 students in Northeast Tennessee who do not have enough to eat at home. In 134 schools operated by 15 local school districts, children who receive Food for Kids packages have been identified by their teachers, counselors and nurses as being “chronically hungry” or with little or nothing to eat when they go home.

To ease their hunger in the hours between the free and reduced price meals they receive at school, the program provides a package of nonperishable, nutrition rich and kid friendly food items every other week throughout the school year. The packages are made possible by the financial support of individuals, corporations, civic clubs and churches who sponsor the children and the help of food bank volunteers and teachers, students and parents at each school.

While the more than 4,000 local children served by the program last year represented a 12 percent increase over the previous school year, hunger studies conducted locally by the national Feeding America food bank network show many more local children are “food insecure” — at risk of chronic hunger and in need of the supplemental food the program provides.

When school begins in early August, Second Harvest will once again be asking schools for help identifying students in need of food assistance and sending out appeal letters to individuals, corporations, foundations, civic clubs and churches whose sponsorships have made the program possible in the past.

Last year, the food bank purchased $380,000 worth of food for Food for Kids program and Second Harvest will be challenged to meet that tall order again this year.

“We start every year with very few sponsors and recruit big time until we send out those August letters,” Rhonda Chafin, the food bank’s executive director, said. “It’s $93 to sponsor a child for the entire school year. It’s two bags (of food) every month except December and May when we do one bag. It’s snacks and meals that may be just a little can of stew that they can pop the top off of and eat it cold if they have to. We hope they don’t have to do it that way but we know they sometimes have to. We put in peanut butter every other month because peanut butter really helps a lot.”

For anyone who would like to help, donations earmarked for “Food for Kids” may be made by mail to Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee, 127 Dillon Court, Gray, TN 37615; or online at www.networkforgood.org. More information about the program, including volunteer opportunities, may be obtained by calling the food bank at 477-4053.

If there is a need or a project in your neighborhood the Good Neighbor column can assist with, contact Sue Guinn Legg at slegg@johnsoncitypress.com, P.O. Box 1717, Johnson City, TN 37605 1717 or 929-3111, ext. 335.

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