By Anthony Jones
Oklahomans helping Oklahomans, for the Oklahoma National Guard it’s more than just a saying – it’s a way of life.
That mantra is what leads Guardsmen to serve our state and nation, and this fall it led to Oklahoma National Guard members and their families collecting more than 1,200 packages of new socks and underwear for homeless shelters across the state.
Clay Fees, director of the Oklahoma National Guard Family Program Office, said the shelter drive was inspired by a conversation he had with Col. Ginger Turcotte, director of manpower and personnel for the Oklahoma National Guard.
“The primary impact we are hoping for is that we make our less fortunate, homeless population a bit more comfortable this winter, and we hope that a significant portion of our efforts go to homeless veterans,” Fees said about the donation drive that lasted from mid-November to early December.
Fees said he and Turcotte wanted to find a way for the Oklahoma National Guard to give back to the communities that are home to major units. He added once the decision was made to collect donations for homeless shelters, the Family Program Office reached out and found the greatest need was for socks and underwear.
Units from both the Army and Air National Guard participated in the drive, with the 1st Battalion, 158th Field Artillery Regiment, 45th Field Artillery Brigade making the most donations.
Rhonda Williams, a Soldier and Family Readiness Specialist with the Family Program Office who works with the 1-158 FA in Lawton, Oklahoma, said the Soldiers were excited for the opportunity to help their local community and have held their own drives in the past.
“Giving back keeps us connected,” Williams said. “It helps us to show compassion and kindness.”
The 1-158 FA Soldiers and their families donated more than 50 pairs of socks, 10 winter hats and 25 jackets for shelters in the Lawton area.
“[The drive] was resounding success. If a single homeless veteran, or anyone for that matter, benefitted from our efforts then it is a success,” Fees said. “However, I do not believe we hit the ceiling. We learned a lot of lessons that will be put into effect next year, and I expect we will improve this every year hereafter.”