The rustle of plastic bags filled the meeting room at the Halifax Health – Hospice Care Center in Port Orange on Tuesday, Aug. 15.
The Veterans Committee and volunteers moved quickly to fill boxes with containers of shampoo, toothpaste, packages of underwear, paper and pens along with anything else that veterans, active military members and their families may need. The items were boxed, labeled with the designated military branch and sealed in preparation for delivery to the Jacksonville USO the following day.
The committee's annual "packing party" is part of the Halifax Military and Veteran Donation campaign. Donation bins are delivered to all 14 Halifax Health – Hospice locations, plus many civic organizations.
Included with the participants this year were the Ormond Beach, Palm Coast and Holly Hill Chambers of Commerce, as well as the Rotary Club of Flagler County. Rotary President and Palm Coast resident Charles Barbel also helped deliver the donations to the USO.
Donations are received at each facility from May through the end of July, when bins are collected and delivered to the Port Orange Care Center.
Eric Whitwam has worked for Halifax Health – Hospice for 29 years and is now the operations manager. He has participated with the campaign since its inception. He said he basically lives out of the company van he uses to deliver the donations.
“43 boxes of donations,” he said. “Our best year yet.”
Maintenance Supervisor Anthony Alvarez filled the interior of the van with the boxes. He has been with Halifax Health – Hospice for 11 years— starting in resale, then working his way up to management. He has volunteered every year, and said he loves it.
“I just love to help people,” he said. “Just to be a blessing to others is always a good thing.”
(Having our) freedom, having a teacher, being able to voice whatever our voice is—we thank vets because they’re the ones that made that possible. Without our veterans, we wouldn’t be a society that we are. It’s very important so we thank our vets for that."
— JAMES TURNER, Halifax Health – Hospice employee
The Veterans Committee consists of Halifax employees and includes a Veterans Advisory Council, which is a subcommittee that helps keep the pulse of the community.
The council includes retired veterans who give the committee information about veterans' needs, changes happening within the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, and Veterans Stand Down events designed for assisting homeless veterans, among others.
“They help keep us straight,” Whitwam said. “They let us know what we can really do to positively impact our veterans and what may not be on our radar that we are completely missing.”
United States Navy veteran and Ormond Beach resident Bob Bendlin is on the Veterans Advisory Council and a director for the Vietnam Veterans of America Daytona Beach Chapter 1048. He also takes part in Halifax’s Veterans Recognition Program, which includes a pinning ceremony performed to honor veterans and their families for their military service and sacrifices made for the country.
Bendlin said he will never forget his first pinning ceremony. When he and the chaplain arrived at the Port Orange residence, a Marine veteran, who would soon die, was seated in a chair. His wife and daughter were with him.
“The last thing we do is salute them,” Bendlin said. “He called his wife and daughter over. They helped him out of the chair and he saluted back. I said, I will never stop doing this (pinning ceremony). We take great pleasure in helping the people that are soon to pass away.”
Bendlin serves on the Advisory Council with Ormond-by-the-Sea resident and fellow veteran Ed Miller. Both of them cook at the Halifax Health – Hospice Ormond Beach Care Center. Miller cooks lunch and dinner on Tuesdays, and Bendlin does breakfast on Fridays. For five years, the two have been on the frontline, baking 1,200 cookies for the service men and women.
Bringing up the rear in the cookie venture is James Turner, who has been employed in the Halifax system for 42 years — 29 of those years with Halifax Health – Hospice. He said both Bendlin and Miller work behind the scenes and do not want to be recognized for their good deeds.
“They do what they do out of the kindness of their hearts,” he said.
He was happy to be working with the veterans.
“(Having our) freedom, having a teacher, being able to voice whatever our voice is — we thank vets because they’re the ones that made that possible,” he said. “Without our veterans, we wouldn’t be a society that we are. It’s very important, so we thank our vets for that.”