The Sarasota funeral for veteran Edward K. Pearson was a triumph of life. More than 1,500 people showed up this week to pay their respects to a veteran who had no immediate family members, according to his obituary. Pearson became a symbol for all of the lonely veterans and elderly in the state. He could have been a father, a brother or a neighbor.
The funeral turnout is inspiring, and it can be more inspiring if it spurs Floridians to spend time with veterans who are still with us. Projections from the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs indicate that there are as many as 1.5 million veterans in the state. Pearson was 80 when he passed away. He had experienced a series of tribulations in the last few years of his life. His mobile home was practically destroyed during Hurricane Irma, leaving him unable to pay his taxes and utilities.
We must not forget Edward K. Pearson and all the veterans and elderly who have similar stories. Here are four programs you can support or daily efforts you can take to help out those around us.
1. Volunteer at a Veterans’ Affairs hospital.
Volunteer opportunities are available at most Veterans Affairs’ medical centers across the country, including St. Petersburg’s Bay Pines Healthcare System and Tampa’s James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital. To get the most intimate access, program leaders suggest the Red Coat Volunteer Ambassador program, an assignment that allows for extended interaction with veterans. Volunteers greet veterans and help them find their appointments.
Who to call: In Tampa, Haley’s voluntary services office: 813-972-7533; in St. Petersburg, Bay Pines: 727-398-9394
2. Get a guide dog.
Palmetto-based nonprofit Southeastern Guide Dogs offers veterans guide dogs for those struggling with vision, service dogs for those struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and emotional support dogs for those who simply want a friend.
Who to call: 941-729-5665
3. Help build a home.
Habitat for Humanity of Hillsborough County’s Veterans Initiative is specifically geared toward helping veterans with home ownership and repairs. The program also offers veterans the chance to volunteer on other home-building projects for Habitat.
Who to call: 813-239-2242
4. Say hello.
The best relationships are forged with a simple hello. If there’s a veteran or an elderly person in your neighborhood whom you know lives alone, make a connection. It will be worth it.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news