Mississippi teen donates 100 gift bags to homeless veterans program

Connecting Vets
January 22, 2020 - 10:10 am

Department of Veterans Affairs


By Bruce Cummins

Gulf Coast Veterans Healthcare System

A Long Beach, Mississippi, high school senior donated more than 100 gift bags to the Gulf Coast Veterans Healthcare System’s Homeless Program Dec. 18 at the Biloxi VA Medical Center.

Shayla Pierson. 17, spearheaded an effort to collect toiletries for distribution to area homeless veterans. She is the granddaughter of Korean War veteran and Gulfport resident Paul Upton.

“Everyone who is homeless once had a home,” Pierson said. “They had family who loved them. Just because things happen doesn’t mean these people don’t have worth. Sometimes a person just needs to know someone cares and values their worth.”

Pierson said she began collecting the toiletries during a three-month project. In addition, at the Long Beach High School Family Career Community Leaders of America club, she asked other students to join her efforts.

As a result, donations of socks, personal grooming items and snacks filled more than 100 bags. Homeless Program manager Jodie Picciano-Swanson said the organization will use the items in various outreach projects.

“The Homeless Program staff provides outreach to various locations throughout our area,” Picciano-Swanson said. “Shayla has a heart of gold. She was dedicated to this self-initiated project. She would send me photos of piles of the collected items spread across her living room floor. Her granddad, Upton, helped her organize the items. She is a remarkable young woman.”

Pierson’s motivation for the project was to provide assistance to Gulf Coast-area Veterans in need. In addition, she was able to recognize and remember the sacrifices of the service members.

“A simple act of kindness can change lives,” she said. “This small act of kindness is nothing compared to the fact that these people risked their lives to fight for ours.”

The GCVHCS Homeless Program serves an estimated 875 homeless veterans in Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.

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