It’s a new year, a new welcome home for hundreds of veterans in Tampa Bay.
The Veterans Mall opened its doors in Clearwater to wounded vets transitioning from homelessness to apartment life.
Virginia Meyer started the nonprofit after finding out that once vets got housing assistance from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, they didn’t really have much else.
“We asked, what else do they have besides a bed? They said, 'That's it.' I said, 'Do they have a drinking glass? Do they have bar soap?'” Meyer said.
The VA chooses who gets to come and all the items are totally free. Each veteran starts with a 12-piece kit addressing the most basic needs.
“I said, 'Well you go to eat, you got to sleep, you got to bathe,'” Meyer said.
So far they’ve served 1,200 veterans and are seeing more women every year, like Kara Shields.
She spent almost a decade in the Army, including a tour in Afghanistan, but her toughest battle was breast cancer.
“I went through all kinds of surgeries, my breasts removed. Because my health was so bad I couldn't continue work. I lost my car. I lost a two-story condo that I had,” Shields said.
Raising two kids on her own, she tried to pay for an apartment but got evicted. Now in a new place with the VA, she’s getting the items she needs to start over.
“I think it's been since 2008 since I went out and bought some clothes,” said Shields, “I'm not sad anymore, I don't need to be sad anymore.”
Leaving with a smile and a hug, the mall is just a thank you for everything she and other veterans have done for us. It takes $50,000 every year to help these veterans.
To donate cash, bikes or clothing call 727-798-0035.
If you are a vet, contact the VA program at 813-972-200, or 727-398-6661.