An anonymous $10,000 donation to the Spokane County veterans relief fund is shining a light on a little-known program that serves thousands of people. The money will be used to increase 1,000 food vouchers from $65 to $75. “We’ve fielded a lot of phone calls in the past two or three days from people that didn’t know we even existed,” said Chuck Elmore, director of Spokane County Veteran Services. To be eligible for assistance, veterans must be honorably discharged, live in the county and be unable to pay their bills. Their widows also are eligible. The department assisted in 5,505 cases last year, and by Friday had served 497 clients in January. A retired chief master sergeant who spent nearly 28 years in the Air Force, Elmore offered these insights:
Q. What help does Spokane County Veteran Services provide?
A. We provide food assistance, and we can provide what we call travel assistance. That’s either gasoline or a bus pass so they can get to and from work and those kind of things. We also can provide some rental assistance if they have an eviction notice, and we can help with utilities if they have a turn-off notice.
Q. How much money do you have for veterans’ relief? Is it adequate for the need?
A. My relief budget this year is $550,000. We’re doing OK, but it’s never going to be enough. If somebody comes in for rent assistance, I can’t pay their entire rent. I can’t pay their entire utility bill, but I can at least pay enough to keep it from getting turned off in most cases.
Q. How would you describe the veterans you serve?
A. The largest number that we see are Vietnam-era vets, close to 50 percent. The largest-growing number that we see is the Gulf War veterans (a term he applies to post-9/11 conflicts).
Q. What is the greatest need?
A. The predominant voucher that we give out is a food voucher – food and gasoline.
I had a gentleman in this morning who was hospitalized for about a month in December and early January. He wasn’t working and he had no insurance or anything, so he fell way behind on his bills.
Q. How remarkable is that $10,000 donation?
A. I was just absolutely dumbfounded when he laid a check that size on my desk. Every time I explain that to a veteran that’s in here to get a food voucher, they’re just pleased tremendously. They’re as amazed as I am. They all want to know who he is so they can thank him.
Q. What can other people do to help?
A. My plea would be to please volunteer your time somewhere, even if it’s just a couple of hours a month. Because there are so many vets in this community (55,000 to 60,000), if you’re volunteering your time, you’re assisting a veteran somewhere.