Village for Vets supports veterans sheltering at West LA VA during pandemic

By Dev Jaiswal

Village for Vets volunteers have created a community of support for veterans safe camping on the VA’s campus
Photo courtesy of Village for Vets

Marcie Polier Swartz’s eagerness to help her community is rooted in history.

Inspired by her brother, uncle and father, all veterans of the United States Armed Forces, Swartz founded Village for Vets, a nonprofit organization dedicated to assisting homeless and at-risk Los Angeles veterans.

“There are three veterans in my family, so this is very personal to me,” Swartz says. “Really, it’s a passion.”

Village for Vets, founded in 2016, offers four types of services for veterans: meals, emergency financial assistance, basic needs initiatives and social support. The organization provides more than 1000 meals a week. Veterans receiving meals include the approximately 50 veterans housed in the Safe Camp tent area known as the Care Treatment and Rehabilitation Service Program (CTRS) at the West Los Angeles VA.

The safe camp was specifically set up to provide socially distanced shelter during the coronavirus pandemic. For these veterans, Brentwood School donates 500 meals daily Monday through Friday, and Village for Vets arranges the weekend meal. Other food-focused initiatives at Village for Vets include donating food boxes, as well as a few activities done in partnership with Meals on Wheels and Safe Parking L.A.

“It’s really been a silver lining of this horrible pandemic,” Swartz says.

Besides meal services, Village for Vets also provides grants to veterans facing a financial hardship, who may otherwise slip into homelessness without the assistance. The group’s “Basic Needs” initiatives include supplying move-in kits to those moving into housing in addition to helping some veterans obtain I.D. cards. Social events include “Paint ‘n Snack” art therapy events, a Superbowl party and an annual “Stand Down” event in October where veterans can receive haircuts, showers, clothing and meals. “Stand Down” usually has over 150 volunteers helping out, but the event will not occur this year due to COVID-19.

The coronavirus also presented some other challenges to Village for Vets, particularly in March when donations suddenly stopped. But after some initial assistance from the office of District 3 Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, more donations began trickling in.

“We started getting unexpected donations that enabled us to be able to continue to fund this food program,” Swartz said. “We couldn’t be doing any of it if it weren’t for the generous donations that we are receiving.”

Additional major donors include Cedars-Sinai Health System, United Way, The Annenberg Foundation, the Tech Sgt. Jack Kushner Ret’d Foundation and The American Legion Post 283. Additional partners include the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, New Directions for Veterans and supportive services nonprofit Step Up on Second. Donations can be made on the website.

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