Members of 17 Wing mingle with veterans and staff at Deer Lodge Hospital after delivering the Adopt a Veteran gifts. Photo by Bill McLeod.
By Bill McLeod
For the past 20 years, the veterans at Deer Lodge Centre have had George Stetina as their own Secret Santa.
A member of the Canadian Armed Forces when he first learned that some veterans in Deer Lodge didn’t have any family, George stepped in to fill the gap. Now retired from the Canadian Armed Forces and working as the civilian administrative assistant for 402 Squadron’s Commanding Officer, George is still involved in what has now become an annual tradition.
When George first started the Adopt-a-Veteran Program, he bought each veteran four or five gifts, and went with family and friends to drop them off at Deer Lodge Centre in person. He soon discovered, however, that even veterans with families did not always get anything for Christmas. It upset him that while one veteran received a gift, a veteran in the next bed may have received nothing. It was then that he decided to make sure every veteran got something for the holidays. He began by donating the gifts himself, running silent auctions to raise the money.
Following the advice of the 402 Squadron Chief Warrant Officer, the program has since evolved. Members of 17 Wing can now “adopt a veteran” and provide them with gifts for the holiday season.
This year, George expects the Adopt-a-Veteran Program to deliver gifts to over 130 veterans.
Fundraising raffles still take place on the day the Wing holds individual unit Christmas parties, and the money raised is used to purchase gifts for the veterans. Any remaining funds are donated to the 17 Wing Care and Share Program as well as the Deer Lodge Care Home.
George says gifts don’t have to always that extravagant—just a few small things go a long way to help enhance a veteran’s quality of life. And while the veterans appreciate Santa’s delivery, he adds, the program has another equally important, if less tangible, benefit.
“We are trying to make people aware there are vets in need,” says George. “In a few years it could be some of us in those rooms.”
Bill McLeod is Manager of The Voxair, the community newspaper of 17 Wing Winnipeg.