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Little known Red Cross program donates to Maine Veterans Home in Caribou

CARIBOU, Maine — Members of the Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces program presented residents of the Maine Veterans Home in Caribou with $2,000 worth of weighted blankets, puzzles, and iTunes gift cards on Tuesday.

Service to the Armed Forces is the oldest program of the Red Cross, established in 1881 at the same time Clara Barton established the organization itself. Jay Cloutier, regional director of Service to the Armed Forces in Maine, said the program’s motto is to care for the veterans of “yesterday, today, and tomorrow.”

“This is to take care of those who served yesterday,” he said, adding that in May of this year his organization donated a $500 Home Depot gift card for a gardening program that lets residents “take advantage of the good weather” and grow their own gardens.

The iTunes gift cards are part of a “music memory program” in which residents suffering from dementia or long-term memory impairment may be able to trigger old memories by hearing songs from their youth.

“They might listen to a song and say, ‘Hey! I remember fishing with Joe when that song came on,” said Cloutier, adding that Service to the Armed Forces even has fishing programs for veterans in Maine.

Air Force Veteran Ronnie Rohn said he was pleased to learn about the iTunes gift cards. Rohn is an avid lover of music who said he enjoys Jimmy Buffet along with “a little bit of everything.”

“This is a great thing,” he said of the donation. “The community here really needs it and it helps to occupy them.”

The puzzles, of which there were roughly 30 ranging from 500 to 2,000 pieces, were given not only to help veterans pass the time, but also to improve cognitive function. Cloutier said the weighted blankets can provide a “sensation of comfort” not unlike a baby being swaddled, which may help some veterans dealing with agitation while trying to sleep.

Cloutier served in the United States Air Force for 30 years, and soon found himself working for Service to the Armed Forces after leaving the military. Tuesday marked his one year anniversary as the regional director and his second trip to the Caribou veterans home.

His organization also helps current members of the armed forces by providing communications 24/7, every day of the year. In the event of an emergency, he said the Red Cross is the only agency outside the government that can “verify a true emergency.” While a service member’s commanding officer ultimately decides whether or not they can take an emergency leave to care for a loved one back home, Cloutier said the Red Cross is able to provide concrete evidence of an emergency which may hasten the process.

“Unlike the days of Klinger in MASH, we can give them concrete evidence of an emergency instead of someone claiming their mother died for the fifth time,” he joked.

As far as future veterans, the Red Cross SAF briefs military family members about what will happen to their relative overseas, and provides information that will allow them to contact the Red Cross (who will then reach out to the servicemen’s commanding officer) in the event of a family emergency.

“So when Johnny is out there doing his job, he doesn’t have to worry about any family members back home,” Cloutier said.

He added that the process does not “work in the reverse” if tragedy strikes anyone currently serving in the military and that such notifications are handled “strictly by the military.”

Cloutier said he is thrilled to be able to travel the state and care for veterans of all kinds through his work.

“I am so excited to be in this role,” he said, “and really championing our motto of taking care of those that served: yesterday, today, and tomorrow.”

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