Showing vets they care

Mother, daughter organizing effort to aid veterans  

Naugatuck residents Mary Harris and her daughter Rikki Harris look over informational pamphlets about veterans at the American Legion Post 17 April 7. Mary and Rikki Harris are collecting clothing for homeless veterans and raising awareness about the plight of veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder as part of the ‘I’m Listening, I Care’ program. –LUKE MARSHALL

Naugatuck residents Mary Harris and her daughter Rikki Harris look over informational pamphlets about veterans at the American Legion Post 17 April 7. Mary and Rikki Harris are collecting clothing for homeless veterans and raising awareness about the plight of veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder as part of the ‘I’m Listening, I Care’ program. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — A mother and daughter have teamed up help veterans.

Maple Hill Elementary School second-grader Rikki Harris, 7, is collecting clothing for homeless veterans with the help of her mother Mary Harris as part of the “I’m Listening, I Care” project.

 “We don’t feel it’s right for any veteran to be homeless. They should have access to all the services that are offered to them, and they may not know about it or they might be ashamed to reach out to somebody to get that information,” Mary Harris said.

Mary Harris, who is a U.S. Army veteran, said she originally applied for a $250 grant through Disney’s Friends for Change program. Even though she did not get the grant, she decided to move forward with the project anyway for veterans and to foster a passion for helping veterans in her daughter.

Rikki Harris said she wants veterans to know that somebody cares about them.

“I’m worried about the veterans,” Rikki Harris said.

The mother-daughter tandem started the project in February. So far, so good.

“It’s going great. I’ve gotten donations from my supervisor, who has donated boxes upon boxes of boots,” said Mary Harris, a senior security specialist at ESPN.

She said her supervisor is also planning on donating a lot of blue cargo pants, which is part of her work uniform.

J&M Automotive, where Mary Harris’ husband works, and its employees have also donated bags of clothing.

“I have a feeling it’s going to run for the next year. From just the word of mouth that’s been out so far it has been a good response. People are willing to offer up help any way they can,” Mary Harris said.

The items will be donated to charities and veterans organizations around the state, such as the Vietnam Veterans of America, the American Legion and the South Park Inn.

Mary Harris said clothing such as socks and underwear is what they need the most, but they will gladly take gently used household items, shoes, blankets and toiletries.

Since the items are being stored at the Harris household before being donated, they are currently unable to accept donations of larger items such as couches.

In addition to collecting donations, Mary and Rikki Harris are also trying to raise awareness about homelessness, suicide rates and post-traumatic stress disorder among veterans.

“There are at least 22 soldiers that commit suicide every day, and it shouldn’t be that way,” Mary Harris said.

They are planning to hand out informational flyers in the borough about the troubles returning veterans face, Mary Harris said.

“The reason why we chose veterans is that these are soldiers that pretty much wrote a ticket parable to the United States up to and including their lives. They don’t deserve to be homeless and they don’t deserve to die by their own had,” Mary Harris said. “The crisis is becoming so bad in the United States. They deserve respect.”

For Rikki Harris, the reason for helping veterans is very straightforward.

“Everybody should have a home,” Rikki Harris said.

Rikki Harris is no stranger to helping veterans. When the flags at the St. James Cemetery on Cross Street were stolen last year she helped replace them, Mary Harris said.

“She is involved. She is young,” Mary Harris said.

“But I can still do it,” Rikki Harris said.

Donations can be dropped off at the American Legion Post 17, 21 Cedar St., between 9 and 11 a.m., Monday through Friday, or contact Mary Harris directly at (203) 819-5024.

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