COLLINGSWOOD - Fred Silhol, a former homeless veteran, remembers his first day in his new Camden County home, when he realized he had no pots to cook dinner, no sheets for his bed, not even a shower curtain.
With the little money he had saved, Silhol said, he went to discount stores to stock up on essentials.
Thankful for the help he had received from Volunteers of America Delaware Valley when he was homeless, he searched for a way to show his appreciation. He recalled how tough it was when he first moved to Audubon.
“A starter kit would have been nice,” he recalled. “Then the lightbulb came on.” Why not put together such kits for other homeless people as they transition from shelters to permanent homes? VOA now calls it the “apartment starter kit.”
The nonprofit, which provides shelter and other services for 1,000 homeless people a year in South Jersey and the Philadelphia region, announced this week a collection drive for money and donations to stock starter kits.
“It got me on my feet,” said Silhol, 54, a former Army paratrooper, who retired from the military and ran through his savings before he started collecting another paycheck. He put together his own kit with $50.
“I was able to sustain,” said Silhol, who first stayed in a VOA homeless shelter, Home for the Brave, in Camden. About a year ago, Silhol said, he moved into an apartment in Audubon.
He is now working in a Cherry Hill restaurant while attending Camden County College to get a degree in travel and hospitality with a minor in communications.
The kit includes items such as paper towels, dishes, a blanket, and aluminum foil.
“It’s a cool way to help someone for $50,” said Rebecca Fuller, a VOA spokeswoman. “It’s not much, but it really helps get them started.” Every month, the agency finds permanent homes for 15 to 20 homeless, she said.
Those who want to help can donate $50, or the actual kits, which include kitchen, bathroom, and living room essentials. Donations can be sent to or dropped off at the Volunteers of America Delaware Valley office at 235 White Horse Pike, Collingswood. Cash donations can be mailed or made online.
For more information, visit www.voadv.org or contact donations coordinator Reyna Cameron at 856-854-4660, Ext. 101, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. “Without the help of Volunteers of America Delaware Valley, I don’t know where I would be,” Silhol said. “They gave me a second chance.”
— Barbara Boyer