Members of the military returning home from serving our country often have to restart their lives with nothing. That's where Operation Troop Appreciation steps in, working to help veterans get the fresh start they deserve.
The shelves at Operation Troop Appreciation's headquarters in West Mifflin are filled with items, from light bulbs and blankets to paper towels and cleaning supplies.
The shelves make it look like the headquarters is a supermarket, but nothing there is for sale. Instead, the items are all given to veterans as part of their "welcome home kits."
"How can you be healthy if you're sleeping on the floor? So we provide them with a brand-new bed. How can you cook a healthy meal if you don't have dishes, silverware and pots and pans to cook with? So we looked at the basic things everybody takes for granted that you use in your everyday life, and made sure that they had all of that," said Monica Orluk, chief executive officer of Operation Troop Appreciation.
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Veterans said they're grateful for all the help.
"It's nice to come home to people who don't even know you that appreciate what you do for a living," Sgt. Michael Deglau said.
Sgt. Deglau received a welcome home kit when he finished his fourth tour of duty, and said it made a huge difference.
"It's amazing because it's not only stuff that you can use. There's phone numbers, there's other agencies for veterans of all military branches that can help you out in any way you need," Deglau said.
The all-volunteer staff at Operation Troop Appreciation packs each kit and hands them off to the grateful veterans.
"I've seen tears from them. I've seen - I've heard words of disbelief, 'Is this all for me?' And so it's just a little part that we can do to give back to them for what they've given to us," Carol Hamilton, a volunteer, said.
"It's basically been one of the best relationships in terms of veteran and civilian understanding each other," Deglau said.
The welcome home kits are also given to any veteran suffering through a financial crisis who may need help.
In addition to the welcome home kits, Operation Troop Appreciation also sends care packages to troops stationed overseas, giving them items they request and a taste of home.
Operation Troop Appreciation has a great need for specialized volunteers who can do things like secretarial work, inventory management, or may have business skills they can put to work.
If you'd like more information on becoming a volunteer, or to donate to them, visit http://operationtroopappreciation.org/.
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