WAYNE, NJ – Father Michael Lombardo opened the Our Lady of Consolation Community Center doors to Wayne’s veterans on Thrusday for the annual Veterans Appreciation Lunch. John Harris, the Passaic County Veterans Service Officer and David Pearson the Assistant Director of Veteran Services from Catholic Charities hosted the event for the fifty or so local veterans who attended.

Harris spoke before lunch was served: “Seven years ago, David Pearson with Catholic Charities and I got together, and we said: ‘What can we do for Veterans?’ That was the beginning of the Passaic County stakeholders group for veterans. And it grew into approximately sixty providers throughout the community, the county and the state. We’re in ten counties now and growing and I’m so happy that we are able to provide so much for the veterans out there who are hurting.”

New Jersey State Senator Kristin Corrado also attended. “To all our veterans and our family members we thank you for your service; for the sacrifices you’ve made and most importantly, we thank you for your love of country,” she said during a short speech.

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Pearson spoke next, saying: “We’re here today with only one purpose: to say thank you.  When I first started, it was the Vietnam veterans who helped to teach me. What’s available now was not available back when they came home.  Part of our goal is to make sure that our service to you continues to grow; to make sure that veterans get the care they need, the housing they need, even just a warm blanket.”

Wayne Mayor Chris Vergano came with new Chief of Police, Jack McNiff who he introduced before addressing the veterans: “We wouldn’t be able to sit here and talk freely without the sacrifices you’ve made.  I thank you for all you’ve done so I can have the opportunity to speak to you today.”

Vergano went on, talking about the array of services that the Township of Wayne and Passaic County provides for veterans: “There’s a lot of opportunity in this room today with organizations who are here to help you.  We’re all here for you, so don’t hesitate to take advantage of what’s out there.”

Lunch was donated by the Wayne Alliance for the Prevention of Substance Abuse and the Coordinator for the Wayne Alliance, Robbin Gulino and Rosemary Acampora who heads the Wayne Senior, Social Services & Welfare department were on hand to help serve and dazzle with their smiles.

The Passaic County Clerk’s office offered a chance to create a Veteran’s ID card at the lunch and John Harris’ department were there to explain what our veterans have earned. “If they’re not in the system, we to help guide them into our programs,” said Harris. “It’s important because it’s always the eleventh hour, when a veteran is very sick that I get a call to sign them up for benefits and they’d never been enrolled in the healthcare.  It’s important that its done before then.”

Yvette David, who is with the Catholic Charities outreach program explained:  “We help re-house veterans who are homeless or in danger of becoming homeless.  We help the with clothing, furniture, bus cards, car repairs, whatever we can for our veterans.”

Bob Verhasselt a Wayne resident served in both the US Army and the US Navy.  Verhasselt served in the army for six years with his final two years in Korea during the war. When he came home from Korea, he worked for two years before joining the US Navy, and serving for thirty years. “I hope they’re doing a lot for veterans,” he said.  I personally don’t need the benefits because I’m retired, but I hear horror stories of what my fellow veterans are going through and they need help like these people are offering.  I’m grateful to them for what they do for my fellow veterans.”