Mayor Tom Barrett delivered items to veterans receiving care at the VA Medical Center on December 20, as a public appreciation for their national service.

The 10th Annual Holiday Drive aimed to spread seasonal cheer to veterans receiving care at the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center. Items on the veterans’ wish lists were collected throughout the five-week drive. Donation bins were set up inside City Hall, the Courthouse, and other facilities across Milwaukee County. The donation effort ran from November 11 to December 16, and included everything from clothing, food, games, coffee makers, art supplies, cameras, and electronics.

“Veterans and their families make many sacrifices to protect our freedoms. This is a small way of showing our appreciation,” Mayor Barrett said. “Thank you to all who have partnered with the City of Milwaukee and share our commitment in making the holidays brighter for these courageous individuals. I’m proud to show our appreciation and hope to help create a joyful holiday season for Milwaukee veterans and their families.”

Since 2007, the City of Milwaukee has held an Annual Holiday Drive for servicemen and women. City of Milwaukee employees, community partners, businesses and residents have risen to the challenge and collected thousands of toiletries, snacks, goodies and more to help bring a little holiday cheer to those who have given so much for our country.

“Milwaukee County is honored to partner with the City of Milwaukee and the many community organizations who are joining together to support our veterans and their families this holiday season,” said County Executive Chris Abele. “But our commitment to supporting veterans isn’t just limited to the holiday season. Events like our Annual Holiday Drive are important to help raise awareness so that we can continue to provide more supportive services year-round for the men and women who have sacrificed so much for our freedom.”

The drive began as a way for the City of Milwaukee to share its gratitude with Wisconsin troops who were far away from their families during the holidays. Within the first several years, more than 2,000 care packages were shipped to Wisconsin troops serving our country overseas in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kosovo.

“Each veteran on our inpatient units is getting a personalized gift,” said Dr. Daniel Zomchek, Medical Center Director. “So we are grateful for the donation effort, it is a huge deal for them and their families.”

In 2013, the Holiday Drive took on a new beneficiary, our local veterans. With more and more troops returning home from overseas service every month, the City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County formed a partnership to bring awareness to and address the struggles of veterans who face homelessness or difficulties with stable housing. With the help of the community, 600 complete home starter kits were created for the Milwaukee Homeless Veterans Initiative, enough to support hundreds of veterans and their families in the Greater Milwaukee Area.

Medal of Honor recipient Gary Wetzel attended the celebration, held in the Matousek Auditorium, and expressed his appreciation for the holiday gifts. Wetzel also announced that he was leaving the VA later in the day, after a four month stay from a motorcycle crash in August. President Lyndon Johnson awarded Wetzel with the nation’s highest military decoration for his actions in the Vietnam War.

Donors for the 10th Annual Holiday Drive included the Brewers Community Foundation, Inc., Milwaukee County Zoo, Marcus Corporation, Bublr Bikes, and the Milwaukee Public Museum.

© Photo

Lee Matz

Read the article and view the photo essay that were produced as companion features for this news report.