Mary Carmody is not a soldier or a veteran, however, her compassion for those who have served and mission to serve them, is heroic. Her kindness-in-action is seen and, more importantly, felt in the hearts of our nation’s bravest.
A former employee of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, in 2013 Mary met a man she will never forget at a Lake County Council for Seniors meeting. He had served his country during Vietnam and was now in need of help, having not eaten in days. His situation touched her. The man reminded Mary of her mother who immigrated during WWII to the U.S. with nothing but a strong work ethic and relied upon the generosity of strangers. At the time, Mary gave the man all she had in her wallet – a $5 bill. Afterward, she continually thought about him and how she could make a difference for veterans like this man, who risked his life to protect our country, yet still struggled to survive.
This chance encounter inspired Mary to establish the Midwest Veterans Closet. Initially, she gathered donated clothing and household items and stored them in a borrowed landscaping trailer. As word in the military and veteran community grew about her small operation, more and more veterans came from all over Chicagoland to see Mary in Lake County for assistance. Mary listened to their needs and worked to secure items to help. She procured things like a suit for a job interview, a set of dishes, underwear and socks, and boots for the winter. According to Mary, “the simple items most of us take for granted, often are things many of our veterans are forced to go without.”
In 2014, Mary was able to move Midwest Veterans Closet from the landscaping trailer to its current storefront, near Naval Station Great Lakes. Today, the organization serves 550 people monthly. Most clients are veterans, but some are active duty service members. The operation has grown from a few items in a trailer to a true rapid response assistance center, offering computer and job training, food and nutrition resources; an apparel and household items store; and even donated automobiles to help veterans get to work.
Midwest Veterans Closet also provides work and volunteer opportunities to veterans looking to use their skills and connect with others in their community. One of Mary’s longtime volunteers is an 84-year-old Korean War veteran, who survived three cancers and had almost given up. Now he is the Midwest Veteran’s Closet’s biggest ambassador and loves the camaraderie he finds among those who shop there.
And about the Vietnam veteran that came to the Lake County Senior meeting in 2013? Mary said, “now, he is one of our best clients. Midwest Veterans Closet exists simply because he was not afraid to ask for help.”
The Military Award is presented to an active, reserve, Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), or retired member(s) of the Armed Forces, or military supporter, who acted above and beyond the call of duty or have made an ongoing commitment to the community.
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