By Jill Keppeler
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Gerald Tidd has seen how bad it can get out there.
He’s visited the Homeless Veterans Center in Buffalo. He’s seen men, women and children who have been sleeping on the street, in old houses, in cars, under bridges.
“If a person went down there and saw the condition of these men and women, he’d cry,” said Tidd of North Tonawanda, commander of the Chapter 120, Roll of Honor, Disabled American Veterans. “These people come in, sometimes they have no socks on. Or they’re wearing a summer coat, or a coat that’s torn. They have no razors. They have no toothbrush.
For the past few years, the chapter — the only one in Erie and Niagara County — has ramped up its campaign on the part of disabled and homeless veterans and their families in the Western New York area, collecting clothing and other items for those in need of help. Items are passed on to the Homeless Veterans Center in Buffalo and other organizations.
Right now, there’s a desperate need for such things as new long johns and underwear, socks, toiletries and nonperishable food, Tidd said. Those who wish to donate can drop items off at 460 North Ave., North Tonawanda or at 1945 Parker Blvd., Town of Tonawanda. For more information, those interested can call Tidd at 310-2004.
“We want to feed them,” he said of “We want to get them help. To make their lives a little better ... give them some hope for the future, get them back to a normal life. Because living on the street is not a normal life.”
Chapter 120 of the Disabled American Veterans was founded in 1950 and currently has 650 members, ranging from a few remaining World War II veterans through the Vietnam and Korean eras right up to those from more recent wars, Tidd said. He has been commander about 2 1/2 years, during which time the group also has given out out hams for Easter, dozens of turkeys (and dinner trimmings) for Thanksgiving and thousands of dollars in Walmart and Burger King gift cards, as well as bus tokens.
Tidd estimates Chapter 120 is the most active chapter in Western New York.
“I would put my chapter up against anybody,” he said. “The need is always there. We just try to help everybody that we can.
“We just keep trying; that’s all we can do.”
Money is raised through the annual Forget-Me-Not drive, and donations also come through organizations, churches and businesses. Tidd particularly praised Frank Budwey of Budwey’s Supermarkets for his help over the years, both in hosting the Forget-Me-Not campaign and food drives at his store and making donations.
Mark Francis, volunteer program manager for the VA Western New York Healthcare Center, said that Chapter 120, under Tidd’s direction, has donated thousands of dollars in items or activities for fellow veterans over the years.
“He’s doing a lot for our end,” Francis said. “He’s adopted those areas and they’re kind of near and dear to his heart. He also has a very good open conversation with the homeless veterans program, so when needs come up here and there, he and his organization try to help them in any way they can.”
Activities, such as holiday pizza parties the group has presented for those in the heath care system, also make a difference, Francis said.
“He has definitely made an impact on the veterans here in Western New York,” he said. “I can’t say enough about the generosity from the DAV.
“He’s definitely got a great heart and we appreciate all they do for us.”
According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, nearly 200,000 veterans throughout the United States are homeless — more than 21,000 in New York state. Twenty-three percent of the country’s homeless population are veterans, according to the Erie County Veterans Service Agency Homeless Veterans Resource Center.
Those are numbers that Tidd and his colleagues will never stop working to improve.
“We’re a very active chapter. We’re very proud of what we’ve done and we’re going to keep doing it,” he said. “It gives you a great feeling at night, going to bed knowing someone’s got a coat on because of you.”HOW TO HELP Items for the Chapter 120, Roll of Honor, Disabled American Veterans may be dropped off at 460 North Ave., North Tonawanda, or at 1945 Parker Blvd., Town of Tonawanda. For more information, call Gerald D. Tidd, commander, at 310-2004.