A certain Ms. Claus in Gulfport may not have any reindeer or elves but she has two Rottweilers as helpers and gets the job done just as well.
Cynthia Switalski is collecting donations this holiday season for homeless veterans, a group dear to her heart she feels is being neglected.
Switalski is filling five-gallon plastic buckets with everything from toiletries such as shampoo and toothpaste, to first aid kits, knapsacks, blankets, coats and non-perishable food. The lidded buckets also have a number of uses, including as stools and to keep things dry.
“It’s a shame that these people served their country and they’re just discarded out on the street,” Switalski says. “It hits home especially close to me because I’m a veteran and I was born on Veterans Day.”
Switalski’s father served in the Navy, and her grandfather fought in the Army in World War II. She was in the Army National Guard for 12 years.
Switalski says she got the idea for holiday buckets after seeing many homeless vets during a visit to New Orleans. She started her holiday effort by donating items like first aid kits she had from when she owned a pharmacy, and then reached out to friends for things like toiletries collected at hotels.
“I believe we should use stuff that we have and not let it go to waste,” she said.
Her friends in turn reached out to businesses and people they knew. Through such connections, for example, Sun Paints and Coatings in Tampa donated 20 plastic five-gallon buckets and lids, the Walgreens at 5701 Gulfport Blvd. donated 25 knapsacks, and Guarino & Associates CPAs of St. Petersburg donated six coats.
“My Mom’s crocheting some hats,” she added.
The full buckets will be taken to the Veterans outreach program at Bay Pines VA Health Care, which will identify veterans who need them. Homeless vets who have pets will also get food and treats for their animals.
Switalski says she’s starting out small with 20 buckets this year and hopes to collect more in the future.
“It’s the beginning of something that hopefully will expand,” she said. “We’re hoping eventually it just goes crazy.”
To make contributions to the buckets for veterans, contact Switalski at firstname.lastname@example.org.