SOUTH PORTLAND — Now in their seventh year of involvement with Maine’s Department of Veteran Affairs, local Rotarians have collected and donated approximately $5,800 worth of goods for Maine’s homeless veterans.

And members of the Rotary Club of South Portland-Cape Elizabeth are only halfway through their fiscal year.

Dan Davidson, who chairs the club’s homeless veteran initiative, said it has set aside about $1,500 for additional needs in the second half of the Rotary year, which begins July 1. Those funds will be allocated on a case-by-case basis – for instance, if a veteran needs work boots to qualify for a particular job. 

According to public affairs officer Megan Kon, the VA solicits gift cards for gas stations, grocery stores and department stores, as well as funds to support the needs of veterans transitioning into permanent housing or to provide clothing, gear and personal care items. Its annual Homeless Stand-Down event, where donations are collected, this year will be held Oct. 19.

Items collected will build on those donated by the South Portland-Cape Elizabeth club over the past six months, which included 32 sets of pots and pans, 57 inflatible beds, 44 bedbug covers, and 11 crock pots. All donated items are required by the VA to be new, not used.

It’s up to the VA to package the items or distribute them singly as needed. 

According to a news release from the club, many of Maine’s homeless veterans have difficulty getting to medical appointments, job interviews and other obligations due to lack of transportation and money. And many moving to transitional or permanent housing may be in need of rental deposits, beds, essential household items and other moving expenses.

The South Portland-Cape Elizabeth club became involved with the VA seven years ago largely, Davidson said, because members of the club felt veterans returning from Iran and Iraq weren’t being treated fairly. 

Davidson said the nation has come a long way since the Vietnam War, in which he served, in terms of the respect shown and resources offered to veterans once they return home, but there is still a long way to go. 

He noted the impact post-traumatic stress disorder often contributes to the difficulty veterans have in finding a stable job, which, in turn, serves as a roadblock to securing permanent housing.

The VA estimates that PTSD afflicts almost 31 percent of Vietnam veterans, as many as 10 percent of Gulf War (Desert Storm) veterans, and 11 percent of veterans of the war in Afghanistan.

“During Vietnam, we didn’t really know what PTSD was,” Davidson said. “A lot of veterans could’ve used help from organizations like the VA.”

“We feel privileged to be partnered with Maine’s VA in this effort to help Maine’s homeless veterans,” club President Fran Bagdasarian said. “This is a significant need, and these men and women who have served our country deserve all the help we can offer.”