Being a military veteran, Lumberton resident Bernadette Martinez knows full well the challenges some veterans face after leaving service – whether that be food, shelter or just someone to talk to.
To that end, Martinez and other residents recently purchased the former Lumberton Citizens Hospital building off of West 10thStreet and are in the process of forming an as-of-yet unnamed nonprofit organization to offer those services, with the ultimate goal of housing homeless veterans.
“We need something for veterans that’s closer than going all the way to New Orleans, or going all the way to the Gulf Coast; not everybody has access to go that far,” said Martinez, who serves on the organization’s board. “We have entirely too many homeless veterans that need help or that need something to eat, and we have entirely too many veterans who are committing suicide, because the suicide rate for veterans is up at least 20%.
“I also had a godchild who I lost that committed suicide when he came back from Iraq. He couldn’t even hug his own children. I think about him every day, and I have a lot of friends and family members who are veterans in each branch. We want to bring something positive to Lumberton.”
Veterans will be able to come to the building to talk to one another about their experiences, enjoy a cup of coffee, have a meal – such as red beans and rice, spaghetti or soup – and temporary housing.
“This was a 39-bed-unit hospital,” Martinez said. “It is not a place where they’re going to go for medical help.
That’s a possibility in the future, but more than likely not. The building was available, and it was really a sore thumb in the middle of Lumberton, and like I said, we want to bring something positive to the City of Lumberton.”
Officials are currently holding fundraisers for the effort, including a haunted house from 7-p.m. to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, and from 7-10 p.m. on Sundays. The haunted house, which will continue until Nov. 1, has an entrance fee of $15.
“And I’m going to be selling dinners and stuff like that, and everything that I can,” Martinez said. “It’s going to take a few years to get this together; it’ll probably open one section at a time because of the condition of the building. There’s just entirely too many veterans out there that are homeless and hungry, and just have no one to talk to.
“And when I say no one to talk to, I mean someone that’s been through what they’ve been through. You can go see a counselor, but in all probability, a counselor has not walked in your shoes. So that is our goal, is to house homeless veterans; that is our main goal.”
Because the nonprofit endeavor is still a new concept, word is still getting out to the residents of Lumberton.
“I’m still letting veteran friends of mine know about it,” Martinez said. “This is what makes me feel good, is to help other people.
“Of course, being a veteran myself and having so many friends and family members that are veterans – and then having this happen with my godchild – I kind of prayed about it, and this is the way it drew me. This is the opportunity that came open, and this is my chance to help other veterans.”