In the United States alone, more than 1.4 million military veterans are living at or below the poverty line. Demographically, the poverty rate is at an all-time high for veterans between the ages of 20 and 34, meaning that soldiers returning home from Afghanistan are facing a disproportionate level of poverty in comparison to that of veterans from earlier eras.
This economic reality ultimately means that veterans are struggling to afford even the most basic necessities, including food and housing. Another pressing aspect of this struggle is, even if a veteran living at the poverty line is able to afford housing, they aren’t always able to afford basic furnishings for their housing.
It is along these lines that Peter Hestekin, a resident of Eau Claire, founded Sofas for Service, a nonprofit organization aimed at providing furniture free of charge for veterans in need. In their search for volunteers, Sofas for Service has connected with the service-learning department on campus to create opportunities for students to get involved.
Keaton Duchow, a finance major in his junior year at UW-Eau Claire, was surfing the service-learning website when he found a promotion for the project.
“I found the project through the service-learning website, actually, and gave Peter a call to let him know I was interested,” Duchow recalls.
Since getting connected with Sofas for Service, Duchow’s main focus has been moving furniture for those who need assistance, as well as organizing the warehouse to create the most efficient experience possible for the veterans.
Duchow noted that, prior to his time with Sofas for Service, the warehouse was fairly jumbled and unorganized, making it difficult for the veterans to easily access the resources they needed.
“When I got there, it was kind of a cluttered mess,” Duchow said. “There were bed frames, TV stands, tables, desks and kitchenware in random boxes. We started to organize the warehouse and utilize shelving to make the warehouse look more appealing and make sure that the veterans know exactly what they can find and where to find it.”
When veterans locate any furnishings they need, Duchow and his fellow volunteers are tasked with loading and transporting the items.
“Once the veterans find what they’re looking for, we either help them load a U-Haul or actually deliver the furniture directly to their home,” Duchow said.
As one might expect, working directly with military veterans is an emotional, yet rewarding, experience. Since beginning his project with Sofas for Service, Duchow noted that the work has made a colossal impact in his life.
“My service-learning project has helped me realize that adjusting to civilian life for veterans isn’t necessarily an easy experience, and anything you can do to give back to those who have served our country is obviously a great thing,” Duchow reflected. “[The project] has really taught me that volunteer hours for service-learning don’t have to be boring or just another requirement to graduate.”
Ultimately, Duchow’s project comes down to one very important aspect of service-learning: sacrifice. It is our duty as Blugolds to sacrifice our time to benefit the greater good of the community, especially for those who have sacrificed so much more.
If you are interested in donating supplies or using the services of Sofas for Service, call 715-309-9663 or check out their Facebook page.