Community rallies to raise about $20,000 to care for local veterans

On Friday evening, April 1, a few days after National Vietnam Veterans Day, veterans and community members gathered to raise approximately $20,000 for the important work of caring for and supporting veterans of all wars.

The Vets4Veterans 5th annual “Evening of Community Support,” was held at the Hellenic Center in Lancaster, Calif. The buffet dinner, silent and dessert auctions made for a festive atmosphere despite the sobering work Vets4Veterans and other community groups do, supporting veterans with housing, food insecurity, and job training, as well as physical and mental health.

The Vets4Veterans 5th annual “Evening of Community Support,” held at the Hellenic Center in Lancaster was a sold-out event with a buffet dinner and a dessert auction. (Courtesy photograph)

Vets4Veterans has its roots in a 2010 classic car show organized by Tom Hilzerdeger and went on become to become the multifaceted organization it is today.

It has been a difficult year for the group. Hilzerdeger died in 2020, and another seminal member, Jack Woolbert, died in March of this year, leaving John Parsamyan as acting president.

Megan Hilzerdeger, Tom’s widow, spoke with Aerotech News about Vets4Veteran’s mission, and said there will be a meeting this month to arrange elections for new officers.

The group delivers food to around 50 to 55 families each month, delivered by “a slew of drivers and volunteers” Hilzerdeger said. Northrop Grumman gave them a large COVID Relief Grant to support this effort, which has been going on for two years now, according to their website.

She pointed out that the Vets4Veterans’ service impacts not just the former service person themself, but also spouses and families, including widows and widowers with their new Surviving Spouse Program. “When their loved one passes away, we help guide them. They are in real need.”

The veteran group Homes4Families had a table at the dinner. According to Hilzerdeger, they are but one of the groups that also help veterans, co-ordinate with and support other organizations.

“We stress that it’s the whole community, not just Vets4Veterans,” Hilzerdeger said. “We all definitely work together. We give help with immediate needs: put people in hotels, provide food. Wherever the money is needed is what we do.”

She said that in 2019, Vets4Veteran purchased a house where “a veteran and their family can get back on their feet.” Vets4Veterans are fundraising to build “quality, low-income housing for veterans in the Antelope Valley,” said Hilzerdeger.

One of the treats in the dessert auction was this cake honoring the Vets4Veterans founder, the late Tom Hilzendeger. (Courtesy photograph)

In Project Restart Scholarships, the organization provides scholarships for vet’s job training or going to Antelope Valley College. They have partnered with Parsamyan, owner of Armed Services Auto Body, paying for materials needed to train vets in spray painting aluminum and fiberglass which mimics painting the F-35, machining microparts, and spot welding, all skills used in aerospace.

Three veterans assisted by Vets4Veterans spoke about what impact the organization’s help had on their lives and careers. Darius Dear, Jessy Martinez and Charles Wilson were able to give an inside look at how important a hand-up can be to a vet struggling to reintegrate themselves into the community.

While introducing Tony Tortolano, the evening’s honoree, Ben Berk said that the Marine Corps veteran embodies that service’s core values: “Honor, Courage and Commitment ó Those are things Tony still lives by, every day.

“You can count on Tony for anything: getting a vet to a doctor’s appointment, helping out at every organization in the Antelope Valley, bringing my son a toy ó you name it; Tony is always there,” Berk said.

Tortolano took the podium and said, “I am humbled and honored to receive this award, although that’s not why I do what I do.”

Tall and striking in a grey suit and black shirt, Tortolano called for two World War II veterans in the audience to stand and be recognized and led the singing of Happy Birthday to his mother, who turned 90 on April 2.

Tortolano, who is also the vice president of Coffee4VETS, gave a shout out to the founders of Vets4Veterans saying, “Jack and Tom, you will always be missed, but never forgotten.”

“I can only hope to continue your legacy.”

Various political figures gave plaques to the evening’s honoree, volunteer Tony Tortolano. From left, Palmdale councilwoman Laura Bettencourt; Carlo Basail, field representative for Assemblyman Tom Lackey; Brandon Roque, 36th assembly district field representative; Tortolano; Christine Ward, from Senator Scott Wilk’s office; and Chuck Bostwick, field representative for L.A Co. Supervisor Kathryn Barger. (Courtesy photograph)

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