By Gordon Williams
When a Heroes Cafe for veterans opens in Shoreline WA later this summer, it will represent something new and different for the American Red Cross and for the Red Cross Services to the Armed Forces (SAF) program.
Jason Matheney, SAF program manager for the Red Cross Northwest Region, explains that the Shoreline Heroes Cafe will be the first in which the Red Cross is a full and active partner.
What makes you a Hero, in this case, is having served in one of the branches of the military.
The aim of a Heroes Cafe is to provide a place where veterans can meet for companionship, meals, educational programs and advice on everything from preparing tax forms to filing for veteran benefits. If you have an issue — financial, medical, legal — the Cafe will try to provide someone who can help resolve it.
Why locate in Shoreline? Raymond Coffey, retired U.S. Army Brigadier General and Shoreline Veterans Association representative says they have a need.
“We have a large veteran population in north Seattle and the Shoreline area,” Coffey says. “With the over all success of the Lynnwood Hero’s Cafe to the point they out grew their original location, there is a very real need to establish the Heroes Cafe of Shoreline.”
The Red Cross has been an active force at the Lynnwood cafe since it opened four years ago — providing volunteers and sponsoring activities every October. The Red Cross role in Shoreline, as Matheney points out, will be far more extensive.
Instead of being one of many organizations supporting the cafe, the Shoreline Veterans Association and Red Cross will be co-partners in running the new enterprise. Other entities will be called upon for help when needed — among them the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Washington Department of Veterans Affairs and the King County Veterans Program.
“It will be a one-stop shop for providing assistance to veterans,” Matheny says. He says that assistance could involve financial help after an illness or a job loss. “They may need help in paying the rent or getting a car fixed,” he says. It could also be a place where veterans receive Red Cross disaster assistance.
In addition to resources, Coffey knows one of the most valuable benefits are the connections made with fellow vets. The cafes provide a relaxed and informal space to have conversations with veterans from all 6 forces, regardless of rank, or length of service. “Heroes Cafe will also be an active way to help with PTSD and suicide prevention,” says Coffey.
Veterans face the same problems any civilian faces — plus the special issues that relate to their military service. Those issues may be medical, or they may relate to housing or education or service benefits. “Trying to find someone to help them can be very frustrating for veterans,” Matheney says. No single resource now exists that can answer all the questions veterans might have, or resolve all their issues.
The Red Cross SAF program can bring military families together during an emergency, such as death or illness. What the SAF does not have is in-house specialists to help veterans wade through the paperwork their issues can generate.
Over the years, the Red Cross has built up a network of partner agencies that are trained to deal with veterans’ issues. When there is a request for help the Red Cross can’t resolve within the SAF program, it will turn to partner agencies that can help. Locally, for instance, the Red Cross partners with the Washington Department of Veterans Affairs. We don’t turn anyone away,” Matheney says. “We try to provide whatever help the veteran needs.”
Link to the full photo gallery on Flickr: 2019 Lynnwood Hero’s Cafe
Now the Shoreline cafe will bring all those resources — Red Cross and partner agencies — together in one location. Veterans will be able to come to the cafe, share experiences with fellow veterans, enjoy a home cooked meal, and have troubling issues resolved. “When they need support, they know they will be able to get it from the Red Cross.”
The monthly meetings will be held in the Scottish Rite Center at 1207 N 152nd St, Shoreline, WA 98133 on the 2nd Tuesday of each month from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Local businesses that would like to get involved by offering supplies or services are invited to contact the Shoreline Veterans Association.
The timing of the Shoreline facility is just right. The economic slump connected with the COVID-19 virus has produced a surge of requests for financial assistance from veterans. Matheney says 80 percent of requests for SAF help involve financial hardship due to the virus.
Matheney wants to see more such cafes open in other locations. “I want to see three or four cafes around the state,” he says. “The next one will probably be in Spokane.” He hopes to open the Shoreline cafe in July or August, but the precise date will depend on when COVID-19 quarantine restrictions are lifted.