COLDEN—Homelessness among veterans continues to be a big problem both locally and nationally and the Living Stone Masonic Lodge #255 in Colden is doing their part to help raise awareness and money to help.
Mike Willibey of the Living Stone Masonic Lodge #255 will be hosting the third annual Campout for Homeless Veterans to collect donations for homeless veterans. Willibey, who is a veteran of the United State Navy, will be camping at Colden Veterans Memorial Park from Nov. 3 at 4 p.m. until Nov. 5 at 11 a.m.
“We camp out, we expose ourselves to the elements and we put ourselves out there like some of our homeless brother and sister veterans like they are putting up with … we expose ourselves for a whole 45 hours, which is nothing compared to what some of these other people are going through,” Willibey said.
The Living Stone Lodge #255 will once again be having this fundraiser in conjunction with their annual Veterans Day events. The Lodge has been hosting events to honor veterans for 10 years now the Sunday before Veterans Day, so it does not conflict with any other services held on that day. At 10 a.m. on Nov. 5, a veterans parade will start at the Living Stone Lodge #255, 8798 Lower East Hill Road in Colden, and end at Colden Veterans Memorial, where a short service will be held.
“Our lodge came together and said let’s throw a party for the veterans because the veterans always have to throw their own party,” Willibey said. “This is our opportunity to say thank you to the veterans as a community without them having to do the work themselves.”
Since the start of the Campout for Homeless Veterans, Willibey said the town and the community has been very receptive and giving toward helping the homeless veterans. The campout has already raised over $6,000 in its first two years and this year, people and organizations have stepped up and already donated $1,500 before the campout has started.
“Colden has been really receptive about it … they actually reach out to us and ask us is there anything we can do to help and do you guys need anything,” Willibey said. “The people that know what we are doing out there and why we are out there are very supportive.”
All the proceeds from the Campout for Homeless Veterans goes to the Homeless Veterans Program via the VA Hospital in Buffalo. Willibey said New York has been able to hit a “theoretical zero” when it comes to homeless veterans, which means they have identified all the homeless veterans and where they are. So now, some of this money is now able to be used to help prevent veterans who are in danger of being homeless from falling on hard times.
“What this allows the Veterans Administration to do is it allows them some flexibility to take care of some things for veterans that their traditional funding doesn't allow them to take care of,” Willibey said. “It gives them a pool of funds that they can go out and grab bus passes or they can get a room for somebody for a night and then that way, it helps them get into a transitional position.”
To donate, cash donations will be accepted during the campout or checks can be mailed to Living Stone Lodge #255, 8798 Lower East Hill Road Colden, NY, 14033. Checks can be made payable to Living Stone Lodge #255.