For the past six years, over 7,000 veterans, R.O.T.C. members, and Veteran Service Organizations have proudly marched in the Philadelphia Veterans Parade. The Vet Fest is an opportunity to provide access to resources and organizations to help veterans with their most significant needs, whether employment opportunities, homelessness, addiction, quality healthcare, financial literacy, or the most basic needs for food and personal hygiene.
This year, we put our community’s health and well-being ahead of our desire to recognize in person the values of service, patriotism, and valor by moving our ceremonies, parade, and festival online. Yes, we are missing out on the cheers, the waving crowd, and dancing to joyful music, but our intention remains the same, and our physical presence does not determine its impact. While the pandemic has changed our plans, the sentiment is no less heartfelt or meaningful. The sacrifices that we are honoring are just as real. The issues facing veterans are even more critical as the pandemic impacts every aspect of our lives, from health and safety to financial security. It is our duty and honor to keep each other safe and not to let a year go by where we do not celebrate and recognize veterans.
If there is ever a community prepared to adapt, it is veterans. We do not give up or give in. We adjust and advance whether in battle or fighting to raise awareness of veterans' issues. This year, we took a challenge and turned it into an opportunity to reach a larger and more diverse audience than ever before, including dozens of veterans who shared their stories with us online. We forged relationships with more community organizations and created an alliance with our favorite hometown sports teams. The Phanatic, Franklin, Swoop, Phang, and Bob Kelly representing the Flyers presented jerseys to five veterans thanking them for their service.
And for the first time, community members nominated the Grand Marshal via social media. Our 2020 Grand Marshal is Lieutenant Commander Kristin Leone, an inspirational veteran who served in Afghanistan in a combat hospital and continues to be on the front line battling the pandemic, providing care for people in their homes, and training a new generation of nurses. Kristin is an ardent advocate for homeless female veterans and Final Salute, an organization dedicated to helping homeless women veterans and their children find safe and suitable housing through three programs: S.A.F.E (financial support), H.O.M.E. (transitional housing), and Next Uniform (transition into civilian life with makeovers, clothing, and resumes). Kristin raises awareness and resources for the 4,300+ homeless women veterans in this country.
While 23,000+ women veterans are unemployed, and 70% are single moms, veteran programs have traditionally been designed for men, making finding safe and suitable housing for homeless women veterans and their children a challenge.
Last Sunday, we hosted the Vet Fest via Facebook Live, featuring veteran service organizations plus explaining the organization’s mission and offerings. We reached beyond our typical audience, with over 3K+ people logging onto Facebook to hear our message to empower, employ and empathize with veterans who need a hand up to heal their physical, mental, or financial scars. Our media partner, 6abc, broadcast a special celebration reminding us of the joy and pride we feel when we gather together. The virtual Philadelphia Veterans Parade & Festival will be reposted on Facebook on Wednesday, Veterans Day, to continue our celebration.
As always, it is our mission to thank veterans 365 days a year and not just on this holiday. Our community is intimately familiar with the idea of sacrifice and placing the greater good above our own needs. This year, the pandemic meant doing that work differently—while keeping the same spirit.