People in Harford County have donated nearly 400 uniform shirts and pants, worn by former county security guards, to American Legion Post 47 in Havre de Grace, part of what veterans' advocates hope will be a larger effort to secure clothing for the funerals of deceased veterans who do not have families.
"It's such a small thing that you can do, but they appreciate it so much and when you think about who it's for, these men and women laid their lives on the line for our country, and this – in my mind – little thing, it's the least we can do to pay them back," Karen Myers, Harford County's procurement director, said.
Myers and her executive secretary, Sharon Vanden Eynden, brought 324 shirts and 58 pairs of pants to Post 47 on Friday.
Bud Lilly, the post commander, has been appealing to the community for donations since he made a speech about the need for dress clothing during the Havre de Grace Memorial Day observance in May.
Lilly said during the ceremony in Tydings Park that funeral homes need clothing for burials of veterans who were homeless or did not have families who would otherwise provide outfits for their loved one. Myers and her family attended that ceremony.
"It had just come to my attention that this situation existed," Lilly said Friday.
Lilly said he learned about the burial clothing issue from the operators of Zellman Funeral Home in Havre de Grace.
"It occurs more frequently than you would imagine," he said.
Lilly said Legion officials are looking for donations of ties and suit jackets, as well as clothing for women, in addition to shirts and pants, and he said anyone who wants to donate should contact a funeral home in Harford County.
He said the Department of Veterans Affairs usually takes care of most aspects of a burial, such as a cemetery plot and an American flag for the service, "but no one talks about clothing."
"Awareness is what we need," Lilly said.
Myers said the news that the county no longer needed the uniforms, after its 14-person building security operation was outsourced to the Harford County Sheriff's Office earlier this year, reminded her of Lilly's Memorial Day observance speech.
She was attending the ceremony with her family. Her husband, Tim, is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and he was part of an SCV unit that laid a wreath in honor of American service members who have died during wartime.
Many veterans organizations lay wreaths during local Memorial Day observances.
Myers said her father was in the Marine Corps, and he served during World War II and the Korean War.
"I just have a special place in my heart [for veterans]," she said.
Myers and a small group of county employees removed all the patches from the shirts.
The dark uniform pants could be donated as they were, but the white shirts could not, because they bore two "special police" patches, Myers said.
"[County officials] were afraid they would get in the hands of someone who would misuse them," she said.
Myers, her daughter Denise Rottmann, who is a student at Towson University, and about eight other county employees spent their lunch hours in recent weeks removing more than 600 patches from the uniform shirts.
Myers said administrative assistants and purchasing agents, as well as Deborah Duvall, a senior assistant county attorney, pitched in.
"People donated their lunch time to come in periodically and just start tearing the patches off," she said.
Harford County Executive Barry Glassman said Monday that when he saw the employees sitting around a table removing the hundreds of patches, he was reminded of "the old days" when farmers' wives would sit around a table making quilts.
"I'm just kind of proud of them that they did this, above and beyond what we normally do in government," Glassman said.
Glassman said he is seeking ties, which will be delivered to Post 47, and he plans to ask his department heads to contribute.
"The next cabinet meeting, we're going to take up a collection from my department heads to get some ties down there," he said.
Myers said she contacted her procurement counterparts in areas such as Bel Air and Cecil County to see if they would seek donated clothing for veteran burials also, and Bel Air officials said they would participate.
Lilly encouraged American Legion members to get involved in drives for burial clothes as well as other Legion activities – Post 47 hosts several community events each month.
"We're a veterans service organization," he said. "This is what we're supposed to be doing."
Harford residents can contact a local funeral home or Post 47 at 410-939-0234 for more information.
The county executive said "for the most part," the former security guards either retired or took positions with the Sheriff's Office.
The outsourcing of security is one of several cost-saving measures instituted by Glassman's administration, along with having the Sheriff's Office take over animal control duties and outsourcing solid waste services to contractor Maryland Environmental Service.