By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Region – Christmas spirit begins early for Mark Vital of Marlborough, president and founder of Sweats for Vets. The nonprofit organization gives New England sports team sweatshirts as holiday presents to homeless military veterans.
This year’s major fundraising will start with Finnegan’s Pub conducting its fifth annual golf tournament, scheduled for Monday, Oct. 3, 10 a.m., at Green Hill Golf Course in Worcester. The fun and fundraising continues at the Hudson pub with a prime rib dinner and silent auction, noted Vital.
“I don’t know of any place that has a better prime rib than what they serve after the tournament,” he raved. “Going back to Finnegan’s is like a family reunion, particularly on that day when everybody is giving to homeless vets. Last year’s tournament and silent auction raised over $3,000 – that’s about 120 sweatshirts.”
Vital expressed appreciation for the continued support of Matthew and Liz Finnegan as well as their pub’s staff. Sweats for Vets is also the benefitting charity of the pub’s annual NASCAR celebration in December.
In 2011, Sweats for Vets began as a holiday gesture for about 60 homeless veterans sheltered in Worcester. Last year’s goal of 800 sweatshirts was surpassed to over 900, allowing the addition of several homeless shelters and transitional housing programs throughout New England. This year’s goal is 1,000.
“Each year I try to keep building on what we did previously,” he said. “It has become a passionate obsession for me.”
Vital is a veteran, and a sixth- and 12th-grade teacher at Advanced Math and Science Academy (AMSA) in Marlborough. Five years ago, a student’s mother invited him to help with a Christmas Eve breakfast she organized for homeless veterans in Worcester. There, a Vietnam veteran was jokingly warned that he shouldn’t be wearing a Washington Redskins sweatshirt in Patriots Nation.
“He said that it was the only thing he had to wear,” Vital recalled. “How can that possibly be the case in a country like ours, where a war veteran only has one piece of winter clothing?”
The experience compelled Vital to start Sweats for Vets. After its first two years serving Veterans Inc. in Worcester, a delivery was added in 2013 to the New England Center for Homeless Veterans in Boston. In 2014, three shelters were added: Veterans Homestead Inc. in Fitchburg, Veterans Transition House in New Bedford and Operation Stand Down in Johnston, R.I.
Last year’s additions were Harbor Homes in Nashua, N.H.; Liberty House in Manchester, N.H.; and other Veterans Inc. facilities in Devens; Bradford, Vt.; Lewiston, Maine.; and New Britain, Conn.
His students also collect winter hats, gloves and socks for veterans. At last year’s golf tournament, Vital met Joan Boudreau Ostertag, who knitted about 25 pairs of mittens and hats, then delivered them at the pub’s NASCAR celebration.
Also last year, Vital corresponded through Facebook with Ashley Carresi, his former student and track athlete. Now an elementary school teacher, she organized a Sweats for Vets fundraiser and donated over $3,000.
Several months of collecting donations culminates with deliveries Christmas Eve in Worcester and Christmas Day in Boston. Others are scheduled during Vital’s school winter break.
“One hundred percent goes to buying sweatshirts,” Vital said. “I pay for the gas to make deliveries – that’s my gift. You walk into these homeless shelters and the guys look so disheveled and sad. Give them a brand-new sweatshirt and their eyes light up like they’re kids. That’s what Christmas is all about.”
Contributions of sweatshirts or monetary donations for purchases are accepted. Large or extra-large sweatshirts are preferred and can be dropped off at four locations: AMSA, 201 Forest St., Marlborough; Finnegan’s Pub, 25 South St., Hudson; Italian American War Veterans Post 45, 111 Neil St., Marlborough; and Julio’s Liquors, 140 Turnpike Rd, Westborough. To arrange having donations picked up, contact Vital at [email protected] or 508-494-9410.
Golf tournament registration is $110 per player, which includes dinner and a long-sleeve tech shirt. Register at Finnegan’s or contact Vital.