NATICK, Mass. (June 10, 2014) -- About four years ago, Sarah Ross was walking through downtown Boston on a sightseeing trip with her mother. The Army veteran didn't like what she saw all around her.
"There were veterans everywhere on the streets with signs, and it made me really upset," said Ross, recalling how they lacked warm clothing to ward off the chill on that November day. "I think that people in general -- and this could just be a misconception on my part -- think that veterans are taken care of, and that's just not the case."
When a couple of the veterans told her about the nearby New England Center for Homeless Veterans, or NECHV, she went about trying to find a way to help that organization.
"That's where it kind of started with me, is to actually see it in Boston," Ross said. "That reality hits you again that you're having a really good time, but not everyone is having such a good time."
So, last October, Ross and fellow former Soldier Darren Bean held their first clothing drive at Natick Soldier Systems Center, where both are now civilian employees, to benefit homeless veterans. The five-day collection effort netted 800 pounds of clothing and other items for NECHV.
"I didn't know the kind of outcome that we were going to get," Ross said. "So there was no expectation."
That surprising outcome prompted Ross to hold another drive last month while Bean focused on his many other activities on behalf of veterans' groups.
In five days during May, the second drive at NSSC brought in 1,926 pounds of clothing and personal hygiene items, more than doubling what was provided for NECHV through the inaugural event. That amounts to more than a pound for each Soldier and civilian who works at the installation.
Ross was humbled by the response from her co-workers.
"I didn't do this," Ross said. "I just put bins out. People donated. This isn't my thing. It's NSSC's thing."
When it came to collecting and then delivering items to NECHV, young Soldiers from NSSC's Human Research Volunteer program pitched in to help Ross, the HRV program coordinator.
"They donated their time, their gas money, their cars to come and help me," Ross said. "So that was great."
They pulled up to NECHV on June 2 in five vehicles filled with donated items. The center was happy to receive them.
"The New England Center for Homeless Veterans provides a broad array of supportive services to veterans here in New England, and from throughout the nation, who are facing, or at risk of homelessness," said Andy McCawley, NECHV president and chief executive officer. "In order to most effectively accomplish its mission, the center relies upon community support in the form of goods, services and private philanthropy.
"The recent clothing and toiletries drive by the men and women serving the United States Army at the Natick Lab in Massachusetts is an important source of clothing and needed personal essentials for the veterans we serve," McCawley said. "We are grateful for their altruism and support for those who have served this country in uniform."
Ross added that she hopes to continue the NSSC drives twice annually -- once to collect winter clothing and once to accept summer clothing.
"I'm just so excited that this many veterans are going to be getting clothing, and appropriate clothing," Ross said. "They deserve to be dressed appropriately.
"My goal is just to make this a regular thing. I would love for it just to be a staple."
Ross expressed pride that NSSC's people had lived up to the installation's mission to take care of Soldiers.
"Those clothes were donated in the name of what we say we do every day," Ross said. "We put our money where our mouth is, which is really cool, I think."