On the anniversary of D-Day, the Veterans Association in Edmonton and Calgary opened its doors to share how it’s helping military and RCMP veterans and appeal for community support.
The association helps more than 1,000 veterans with the Canadian Armed Forces and the RCMP through its Edmonton and Calgary locations.
It runs the Veterans Association Food Bank but also helps people fill out Veterans Affairs paperwork and access mental health support.
“As a veteran myself, with 20 years in the service and four tours overseas, I’ve been diagnosed with PTSD,” said Melanie Harris, spokesperson for the Veterans Association.
“To have a place for me to come and have purpose after service is very important…. It might be a simple hello, a cup of coffee, or even a food hamper for the day.”
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Harris said veterans’ impulse to serve can make accessing the general food bank challenging.
“If they line up at the regular food bank, they’re going to look over and say, ‘That person needs it more than I do,’ and they’ll step out of line,” she said.
The Veterans Food Bank is run by other veterans.
“You can leave shame at the door and we’ll just help in your journey to healing,” Harris said.
After launching two years ago, in the midst of the pandemic, the group needs donations to meet the needs of veterans and their families, specifically non-perishable food, gift cards and monetary donations.
“Our next food hamper delivery is on the 17th of June and we don’t have enough food to feed our 155 families,” Harris said. “We need your support.”
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Every Tuesday, dozens of Edmonton-based veterans gather for free coffee and fellowship. Second World War veteran Willie Atkins is one of them. He was a rifleman with the Regina Rifles and served with the Canadian Armed Forces between 1944 and 1947.
“This means the world to me,” the 97-year-old said of the association. “I think I’m one of the biggest donators here. I love this place. They’re doing a marvellous job.
“It’s important — mighty important. Anybody with an orange shirt works here — for nothing. It means a lot.”
On June 6, 1944, Allied troops, including 14,000 Canadians, landed or parachuted onto the beachfront code-named “Juno.” Canada lost 359 soldiers on that beach.
Atkins wasn’t part of Juno. He arrived in Europe on Nov. 17, 1944 but remembers D-Day well.
“The Germans were so powerful at that time, but Canadians were more powerful, that’s all.”
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The Veterans Association of Edmonton is gearing up for its largest food drive ever, being hosted by the Edmonton Elks Football Club on opening night, June 11. Edmontonians are asked to bring a donation and drop it off at one of the four main entrances before the game or use the QR code to donate. Donations can also be dropped off at The Veterans Association in west Edmonton.
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