MARTINEZ (KPIX 5) – The holidays can be a lonely time for veterans in the hospital. But an East Bay woman has made it a tradition to round up a band of volunteers to make them feel special.
Every year, Raylynn McIntire and her Women of Steel gather at their union hall in Martinez with their families to take part in a donation drive called The Veteran’s Project.
McIntire leads the charge as volunteers pack bags full of gifts for patients at the VA Martinez Outpatient Clinic and Community Living Center. They range from books and blankets to toiletries.
Veterans are appreciative someone remembers them.
“It means somebody knows us,” said one.
“It feels excellent,” McIntire said. “A lot of these guys have been living on the streets and they don’t get anything and they get a gift for the first Christmas in who knows how long?”
McIntire started the program six years ago, after talking with her daughter, then a pharmacy intern at the VA Hospital. She learned veterans in the hospital pay for their own toothpaste, toothbrush, and other basic necessities.
“I think that’s just wrong. Just wrong!” she exclaimed. “Because these guys gave their lives for the military!”
So McIntire launched an annual donation drive and enlisted about a hundred volunteers. Many of them are fellow oil refinery workers from the United Steelworkers Local 5, District 12, in Martinez, like Suzette Rickett.
“She just gives it her all in all that she does,” Rickett explained. “I’m grateful to have her as a leader.”
The Veteran’s Project raised more than $25,000 and gave away more than 200 gift bags this holiday season. Volunteer Mike Hall credits Raylynn, the daughter and mother of military veterans.
“This would not be the project it is today without her,” he said.
“It means a lot,” McIntire added tearfully. “(The way) I was raised… you always give back.”
So for making sure veterans are not forgotten during the holidays, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Raylynn McIntire.