VFW has ‘empty shelves’ Hollis veterans seek donations

HOLLIS – For 22 years, the Hollis Veterans of Foreign Wars has been helping local veterans in need.

Last week, for example, Commander Jim Belanger and about 10 other veterans showed up around 9 a.m. at the home of Lou Tyska and spent the day building a handicap ramp to the driveway.

Lou, an 80-year-old Navy veteran who has served as chaplain with the Hollis post, had to go into an assisted living facility in July, and the new ramp enables him to come home for visits. In fact, he was home lying on the couch watching a football game on Sunday afternoon.

His wife, Julie, has ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and wants to stay in her home as long as possible.

Their son, Christopher, lives with them and has multiple sclerosis. He seems to get around fine, now, but his future is obviously uncertain.

“The whole family is in kind of dire straits,” said Belanger.

So, on Sept. 24, the local veterans – “we’ve got Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine. All that’s missing is Coast Guard,” Belanger quipped – built a ramp under the direction of David Benner and his son, Joey, using a metal ramp that Maggie Riddle, a long time Hollis VFW member, had used before she died.

When Belanger, who started the VFW post in 1992 and has been its commander for the past 12 years, learns of a veteran or a veteran’s family that can use help he sends an email to his list of about 40 “friends of the VFW,” and some always show up.

“We’ve never asked for money” from those on the list, he said, because over the years he’s learned that people “will give things when you’re not asking them for money.”

But now, for the first time, the VFW is asking for money from the general public for its relief fund.

In a letter to the editor in local newspapers, Belanger describes the Hollis VFW as “a food pantry with empty shelves.”

The only income for its relief fund comes from the sale of poppies on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, which brings in about $1,200 total, he said.

Spending to help local veterans this year came on top of spending on the post’s nursing scholarship and purchase of six video cameras for St. Joseph Hospital’s nursing school .

Donations can be sent to Hollis VFW Post 11373, P.O. Box 1012, Hollis NH 03049. Checks should be made out to Hollis VFW Relief Fund.

Also helping with the Tyska ramp project was Doug Orde, of Hollis Construction, who brought a truck-load of dirt to fill in the area at the end of the ramp, and Janet Hicks, who brought snacks for the men and took photos to document the project.

Julie Tyska, who has lost her ability to speak but communicates well through writing, said the ramp was a welcome surprise.

“Lou and I were active in many things here in Hollis,” she wrote, “and now people are giving back to us. Lucky us to find Hollis 22 years ago … the VFW has been amazing, with Jim Belanger at the helm.”

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 304, or kcleveland@