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Volunteers fix up shelter for homeless veterans in Northport

Charlotte Donnino, 15, of the Cow Harbor Warriors,

Charlotte Donnino, 15, of the Cow Harbor Warriors, paints inside of a housing unit for homeless veterans in Northport. (July 27, 2013) Credit: Ed Betz

National Grid employees working on a gas line at the VA Hospital in Northport some months ago came across a shelter on the grounds for homeless veterans in dire need of repairs.

Nearly 40 volunteers from National Grid and other organizations helped paint the dining room and hang new kitchen cabinets Saturday at The Salvation Army Building, which provides housing to up to 48 homeless veterans for up to three months.

"We needed it," said Ricky Stewart, the house manager. "It's been a long time since the building's been fixed up."

Care for homeless veterans has grown especially important since the recession drove many to unemployment and veterans of the war on terror have struggled to readjust to civilian life, said Greg Curran, the homeless veteran program director. Saturday's community outreach showed veterans that people still care, he added.

Bob DeMarinis, National Grid's vice-president of gas operations, said he volunteered because of his experience in the Navy reserve. He said he had "a great appreciation" for those who fought on active duty and wanted to do "anything I can do to help."

By the time the building's renovation is complete at the end of the week, the community groups expect the kitchen to have new appliances and countertops and the floors to be replaced, Homburger said.

Having a coalition of volunteer groups helped to build connections for future events, said volunteer MJ Fitzgerald of Huntington, whose parents served in World War II. "A lot of hands makes lighter work," she added.

One veteran who has lived in the housing for less than two weeks also pitched in. Debbie Wilson, a Long Beach native who served in the Army in Korea, said seeing all the volunteers and improvements was like "waking up on Christmas morning" to find presents under the tree. "I didn't know what to do," she said, so she picked up a brush and helped paint the dining room.

"Before, I was looking forward to leaving," Wilson said. "Now, I might have to hang around and enjoy the new look."

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