In her role as chief of voluntary service at the VA Medical Center in Providence, Donna Russillo sees the issues facing veterans every day.
The circumstances vary, but too often those who have served the nation in uniform find themselves in dire straits. Some require long-term stays at the hospital, relying on services Russillo said are not found at other facilities. Many are without a home, and roughly 100 veterans are staying in shelters, transitional housing or on the streets any given night in the Ocean State.
The assistance the VA aims to provide goes beyond medical care, ranging from food, clothing, toiletries and gas cards to gifts for children. Russillo said taking the extra steps to meet such basic, daily needs goes a long way for those who have no other means of doing so.
“You find that they have nothing,” she said. “The need out there is tremendous … The need never goes away.”
Obtaining the resources to offer such assistance, however, can be a challenge, requiring contributions beyond what the federal government provides. That’s where a group of community members are hoping, for the second year, to come in and offer a boost.
“We try to support them as much as we can,” said Vin Palumbo, owner of Palumbo’s Garage in Johnston, who along with his wife Elly and Lisa D’Ambra and Steven Quirini of Starzz Entertainment is organizing May’s second annual “Proud To Be An American: An Evening Dedicated To Our Veterans” dinner, dancing and entertainment fundraiser.
D’Ambra, of Warwick, said last year’s event raised roughly $6,000 and drew a big response from the community. As a result of that success, this year’s gathering – being held Saturday, May 17, on Armed Forces Day – has been moved to the Kelley-Gazzerro VFW Post at 1418 Plainfield St. in Cranston.
The hope is to sell 220 tickets and double the event’s fundraising total from 2013.
D’Ambra said she and Quirini – she the booking and event coordinator, he the lead entertainer for various events through Starzz – have done fundraisers for several organizations, including Toys for Tots, the Johnston Senior Center and the Rhode Island Family Shelter in Warwick.
“This is something that we just enjoy doing on the side,” she said.
When the two connected with the Palumbos, Quirini said their shared “soft spot” for veterans led to the “Proud To Be An American” fundraiser being planned and the VA Medical Center’s selection as the recipient of proceeds.
“It just broke loose,” said Quirini of the event’s scope and success.
Palumbo said the selection of the VA Medical Center was motivated by organizers’ connections to the armed forces – he is a veteran, while Steve and Donna’s fathers served – and their wish to help Rhode Island veterans in need.
“Let’s keep it here,” he said. “It all touches us in some form.”
Russillo said the support provided through events like the upcoming fundraiser plays an essential role in the VA carrying out its mission.
Donated resources help fill needs not met through federal funding, she said, and anything – from money and clothing to pianos and pool tables – can be put to use.
“If people give me something … I’ll find a way to use it,” she said.
Russillo said the center is also focusing on the needs of women who have served, working to make the traditionally male-dominated environment “a little less intimidating” and providing items such as special medical gowns.
The May 17 fundraiser will run from 6:30 to 11 p.m., with a buffet dinner, entertainment and raffles. Tickets are $30.
Aside from Quirini, there will be performances by Tony Soares and comedian David DiLorenzo. DJ services will be provided by Tom Falcone, a.k.a. “Tommy Tunes,” while D’Ambra will emcee and Wayne Henrique will serve as photographer.
D’Ambra said a “few other surprises” are also in store.
Ralph’s Catering will provide food for the event, while The Original Italian Bakery and its owner Don DePetrillo are providing Italian bread and pizza. Godiva Chocolates will provide favors and raffle prize.
Other raffle donors to date include Anyplace Travel, Bob Fontaine Photography, Cardi’s Furniture, Foxwoods, Marchetti’s Restaurant, Trinity Repertory Company and Lisa Simeone of Radiance Tanning.
The organizers continue to seek sponsors and donations. Businesses willing to support the event are asked to consider donating merchandise or gift certificates for the raffle, while sponsorship packages are available.
Special recognition will be given to sponsors and prize donors, and information for tax purposes will be provided.
The real reward of the night, however, will be the difference it makes for those who have worn the uniform – both in terms of material assistance and as a sign of appreciation for their service to the nation.
“To see their faces … you see a few tears, but also you see their faces,” said Palumbo. “They get that good feeling. People care about them.”
Gift certificates for the raffle can be mailed to Lisa A. D’Ambra, 74 Zachariah Place, Warwick, RI 02889. Checks made out to “PVAMC-135” can also be mailed to D’Ambra at that address.
D’Ambra can be reached at 451-5500 to arrange the pickup of donated merchandise or to answer and questions.
Tickets for the event can be obtained by calling D’Ambra at the above number or Palumbo at either 942-2973 or 413-6320.