Wednesday, December 16, 2009

U.S. Veterans & Volunteers Share Holiday Gratitude

"This made my day," said one participant.

December 16th afforded an opporunity to see some of the best in San Diegans, as members of local volunteer groups reached out to some of the many homeless military veterans in San Diego on a chilly eve. The Girls Think Tank and the San Diego Young Democrats joined together at a Midway-area temporary winter shelter for homeless veterans operated by Veterans Village of San Diego. Participants helped distribute150 winter survival backpacks filled with hats, gloves, toiletries, blankets, and food, along with donated clothes, books, and home-baked treats.

Equally warming was the conviviality of the event, a chance to meet and share greetings in the spirit of the holiday. Veterans shared personal stories and a few laughs with the volunteers, at tables between rows of neatly-kept bunk beds with Army Green blankets.

Women & Democratic Activists Connect with Area Vets
For the fourth year running, the non-profit activism group Girls Think Tank (GTT) put together the event. The Girls Think Tank is an all-volunteer group drawing many of its members from San Diego's law firms, including Coughlin Stoia and Zeldes & Haeggquist.

San Diego Young Democrats joined enthusiastically in the service project, bringing several dozen members, including President Bryan Crane, VP Stephanie Tesch, noted California political columnist Lucas O'Connor, and Jason Everitt, a candidate for Escondido City Council.

Event organizer and GTT member Amlyu Weas commented, “with the Winter Survival Backpack project, Girls Think Tank and its supporters are able to show thanks to military veterans who have served our nation and given of themselves. As President John Fitzgerald Kennedy said, ‘as we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.’ ”

Jenny Kressel, the Community Service Chair for the Young Democrats Club, expressed her enthusiasm for the outreach. "Hearing the moving testimony from area homeless, I decided to help coordinate this service project with the Girls Think Tank. The San Diego Young Democrats are grateful to our military veterans, and this outreach is one way for us to give back to our military community, and show our support through service." Seemingly everywhere, the SD Young Democrats shared homemade baked goods, warm clothes, and good cheer with the veterans at the shelter.

San Diegan Barbara Cattedra of the Gothic Volunteer Alliance of San Diego was all smiles, "This is a great project -- we're happy to help."

Congressional Support
U.S. Representative Bob Filner of San Diego released a statement in support of the event, noting, “It is imperative we take care of our homeless veterans all year around especially in the cold winter months.” Filner is chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and remains committed to ending chronic homelessness among veterans, particularly as Iraq and Afghanistan veterans begin to join the ranks.

The outreach by Girls Think Tank memebrs is not limited to veterans out in the cold this winter. In November, the GTT distributed out Winter Survival Backpacks outside the winter shelter downtown and has distributed approximately 1000 backpacks since the project began four years ago, working frequently with tireless advocate David Ross, aka 'The Water Man', who ministers to the homeless community year-round in San Diego, providing bottles of water he purchases with his retirement savings.

Maurice Martin, a formerly homeless veteran helped assemble the backpacks last week, which contain warm gloves, hats, and other gear. "I was homeless a while. I know what its like to live on the streets. But these groups are great, and we have to do more to help vets get back on their feet." Individuals and organizations wishing to donate used clothing and survival gear for further GTT events this winter can check the information below.

-- Mike Copass, Liberty One Radio

About the Girls Think Tank:
Girls Think Tank started in 2006 when local attorney Rachel Jensen (left) was frustrated at a sense of injustice seeing the same homeless man day after day, accompanied by a sense of futility about what could be done. Rachel gathered girlfriends for a dinner party and brainstormed solutions. They decided to start Girls Think Tank, with a theme of empowerment and individual action to make a difference in our community. A $20 donation, 1 hour of time: microjustice – like microcredit, hands-on and direct – is the Girls Think Tank model. The new GTT Homeless Coalition will launch a Basic Dignity campaign in 2010. The Coalition includes GTT members, social service and homeless groups, places of worship, businesses, residents, and homeless persons.

For more information about GTT, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in San Diego, and the Winter Backpack Survival project, email or visit our website,

Pictured: (l) Maurice Martin, (c) GTT's Helen Zeldes and volunteers assembling, (r) David Ross & partner


  1. Just when I was reaching the point of feeling that none of our efforts for changing this godawful system that's pushing people into poverty, has a chance of actually changing anything, I had the honor of participating in this event last night. And I am re-inspired. We can't stop, we can't afford to getdiscouraged. These are the most gentle, broken people on the planet and we cannot rest until they all have a safe place to rest too. Thank you to the men who came up to me to share their stories, I heard you and I'm working for YOU!

  2. There's a cool video about the Girls Think Tank which I posted here:

    A great example of what just a few people can do if they gather together to make good things happen.