Raising nearly $5,000 in food and donations was easy for the Fort Bragg Military Atheists and Secular Humanists and finding a charity that would accept the gift wasn’t as difficult as expected.

The organization collected from online sources and other venues and contacted a charity called Veterans Empowering Veterans.

“When I contacted (Renee Elders of Veterans Empowering Veterans,) she didn’t even flinch when I said atheist. That’s not the same sort of response we get a lot of times,” said Justin Griffith, Fort Bragg MASH member.

Elders, the program director and co-founder of Veterans Empowering Veterans was pleased to get the donation.

“Justin called me one day on the phone. He said ‘we have all this stuff to donate but you may not want to because we are from this organization (Fort Bragg MASH) right here. I said ‘No, that doesn’t matter. We’re just happy that you want to donate to us. We don’t get a lot of donations,’” said Elder.

Veterans Empowering Veterans, a non-profit organization, started in 2002 and was incorporated in 2009. The organization provides case management and counseling, employment training, housing, and benefit assistance to homeless veterans in Fayetteville and surrounding areas. They also promote and protect the rights of veterans through advocacy, public education and partnerships with local, state and national entities, said Elders, a disabled veteran who served 17-and-a-half years in the Army. Her husband, Calvin Elder, retired from the Army with 20 years of service.

“The name came from me and my husband because we empower each other to empower others,” she said.

Fort Bragg MASH members stacked food and toiletries at the back of the Veterans Empowering Veteran’s office on 614 Person Street in downtown Fayetteville.

“I think the reason why we also chose (Veterans Empowering Veterans) because they’re case managers; they follow the veterans. They make sure (the veterans) get what they need. There’s accountability … there’s a real sense of support, it’s not just ‘come get a meal and go.’ They make sure (veterans) get back on their feet,” said Priscilla Parker, Fort Bragg MASH member.

“We are starting a partnership with them. We are coordinating with them to do volunteer work in one way or another, whatever they need. That’s part of our goal as a group is to find people that we can help,” added Parker.

“Both Renee and I believe there should be no such thing as a homeless veteran,” said Griffith. “People need to know no matter what your faith or religion or anything like that we have homeless veterans. Let’s do real-world good.”

One of the recent successes Veterans Empowering Veterans has accomplished was helping eight veterans get jobs with a local security company.

“We teach them computer skills, things that they need to know for the outside world. Because the transition from military life into civilian life, for a lot of them is hard, especially now,” said Elders.

“A lot of them are coming back, they have PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), and a lot of mental issues that regular civilians just don’t know how to deal with. I deal with a lot of those issues myself. I know how to deal with a fellow Soldier who’s hurting and has nobody to talk to.
This is my labor of love and for them (Fort Bragg MASH) to donate to us is totally awesome,” said Elders. “I’ve been saying ‘someone please help us’ because our pockets are only so deep.”

For more information about Veterans Empowering Veterans, call 237-4257, email info@veteransempoweringveterans.org or visit www.veteransempowering veterans.org.

For more information about Fort Bragg MASH, visit www.meetup.com/MASHFortBragg.