When Carl Stone retired from the Navy, he knew he wanted to live somewhere he could fish. He and wife Karen lived in rural Montana until health issues required they move closer to medical care – that’s when Carl remembered a trip to Ely as a five-year-old.
The Stones now live in Babbitt and enjoy their Up North surroundings, easy access to Carl’s doctor, and each other’s company. Unfortunately, this year, Carl's health prevents the couple from traveling to see family for the holidays.
So when United Way of Northeastern Minnesota (UWNEMN) delivered United for Veterans holiday packages to the Stones’ door this week, it meant a little extra to the pair.
“We are so thankful for this Christmas care package,” Karen said. “We don’t have any other family in the area; they all live out west.”
The Stones were among 42 local veterans to receive care packages from UWNEMN’s United for Veterans program. UWNEMN staff and volunteers, along with members of the Chisholm and Hibbing MN Army National Guard units, spent the day delivering the packages across the region Thursday, Dec. 19. Deliveries were made in: Aurora, Babbitt, Buyck, Chisholm, Ely, Eveleth, Hibbing, Hoyt Lakes, Keewatin, Nett Lake, Soudan, Tower, Winton, and Virginia.
Each package was valued at approximately $100 and included fresh produce, breakfast items, lunch items, and all the fixings for a holiday meal. New this year, Giants Ridge provided snow tubing passes to each of the veterans with families with young children, and Ken Waschke Auto Plaza employees contributed $20 fuel cards so those families could travel to Giants Ridge. Holiday hams and wool socks were donated by a Secret Santa.
UWNEMN volunteer and United for Veterans committee member Susan Forsberg said giving back to veterans at a time of year when many people struggle has been very gratifying for her and husband Jerry, a Vietnam veteran himself.
“The veterans are so appreciative,” she said. “It is nice to help ease the added stress the holidays can sometimes bring.”
Recipients of the packages were identified and referred by local Veterans Service Offices, the Military Family Assistance Center, and UWNEMN’s United for Veterans Crisis Fund. Recipients ranged in age, background, and family size. All were experiencing some sort of medical or financial hardship.
“We don’t get out often unless it is to Carl’s doctor visits, so this food is great for us,” Karen said.
Another veteran, who wished to remain anonymous, said he had trouble affording certain things provided in his holiday meal kit.
“It means a lot to people that are struggling to make a go of it,” he said of his care package, noting he’d like to volunteer for UWNEMN in the future himself.
A female veteran receiving a package said the experience was new to her.
“I’m not used to taking things,” she said. “My family and I have been through some very difficult times, and receiving this gift, right now, means so much.”
UWNEMN has been delivering holiday meal kits to local veterans since 2016. It’s one of many facets of the organization’s United for Veterans program which also provides crisis funding, connects veterans with free confidential therapy, organizes retreats, publishes a Military Connections Guide, and recently was integral in the creation of a transitional home for homeless veterans on the Iron Range.
“All of our United for Veterans programming is a way for us to say thank you to the men and women who have served our country, but these holiday deliveries might be the most special thank yous,” said UWNEMN Community Impact & Engagement Director Erin Shay. “There is just something about giving these veterans – people who have given up so much for us – the kind of holiday they deserve.”
For Carl, his military service itself was a way for him to say “thank you.” His mother emigrated to the United States from Italy as a child, and as a first-generation American, Carl grew up feeling grateful for America’s support of Italy in military conflicts in his family’s homeland.
“When I became old enough, I wanted to enlist to support the country that saved my family,” he said.
Funding to support United for Veterans holiday packages came from:
- Disabled American Veterans – Russo Golob Chapter #3
- Disabled American Veterans Auxiliary – Russo Golob Chapter #3
- VFW Post 1221
- Disabled American Veterans – Kolstad Chapter #23
- Hibbing/Chisholm Beyond the Yellow Ribbon
- AMVETS Post 12
- American Legion Post 247
- Minnesota Twist Drill
- Minnesota Industries
- Super One Foods - Hibbing
- Giants Ridge
- Ken Waschke Auto Plaza Employees
- Lynwood Silica Seniors Club
- Veterans Thrift Store