As the new publisher of West Springfield Lifestyle, my purpose is to help someone in our community with every issue. November honors Veterans Day, and I pray that this article provides a resource for a veteran or military member, or someone seeking a resource to help their loved one.
I knew as a child that my father had served in the Army in Vietnam, but he never discussed it. His Purple Hearts, medals, and Bible were tucked away on a top shelf in my bedroom closet. When I was in college and we went to see the movie Forrest Gump, I realized why those medals were so far out of reach and out of mind for Dad. In one scene, an ambush catches Gump unaware, and my father gripped my hand. He felt he was right back there and was petrified, and his years of repression poured out in tears and anguish. While I knew he had physical scars, neither I nor the rest of my family knew about Dad’s deep mental wounds until years later when he decided to tell his story.
I recently learned about the Agawam-based One Call Away Foundation (OCA), a non-profit created by president and Army infantry veteran David Sutton to promote post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) awareness and prevent veteran suicide in Western Massachusetts. It’s estimated that approximately twenty military members or veterans end their lives every day in the U.S. One Call Away operates a 24/7 hotline at 413.367.8738, linking callers with OCA members John, Roland, Ron, or David.
David’s can-do spirit inspired him to gather friends from the Patriot Guard Riders and others, including veterans, to form the foundation, giving hands-on help to individuals isolated from established caregiving organizations for veterans and military members. The OCA includes co-founder and vice president Roland Gratton, co-founder and treasurer Ron Sassarone, secretary Christine Sassarone, co-founder Rick Prater, and board members John Schott, Jr. and Andrea Scalise.
David works a full-time job in addition to being a hotline volunteer, and is also a member of the Patriot Guard Riders, an organization that attends veterans’ funerals and shields families of fallen heroes from those that would disrupt the services of their loved ones. He says he was struck by the staggering number of military veterans who die of suicide.
“I thought, there’s got to be something we can do,” he explains. “I wanted to find a way to help veterans and military members who struggle with the psychological problems brought on by PTSD.” The organization’s mission is to provide a risk-free environment by offering anonymous peer support on an individual or group basis, and to provide financial support for those in recovery.
One Call Away also runs the Veterans Support Center, open Monday through Friday and the third Saturday monthly, at 104 Ramah Circle in Agawam, with hours posted on their website at onecallawayfoundation.org. The center provides support groups for veterans and first responders and for their families, a veterans Alcoholics Anonymous group on Saturday evenings, and a no-cost food pantry. Christine Sassarone, who manages the Veterans Support Center’s daily operations, says, “The pantry started in November 2019 just before Thanksgiving and it grew from there.”
The pantry is open for active military, reservists, National Guard, Coast Guard, veterans, widowed spouses, and spouses of active duty members. It is not income based; sign up requires only proof of qualification as a current or veteran military member and your phone number. Food is provided by the Western Massachusetts Food Bank, the organization’s fundraisers, and private donations, and is operated like a grocery store, with recipients selecting the specific items they need and prefer.
The offerings include canned and dry goods, cereals, snacks, and other pantry staples, first aid supplies, household essentials, health and beauty products, over-the-counter medications, and infant items. Christine notes that, “This year, a local store donated backpacks, and we’ll also have jackets for the colder weather. Each person registered that meets the qualifications can receive one coat per year.”
The foundation operates by holding two annual fundraisers to raise money to help local veterans and military members in Western Massachusetts. The first is its motorcycle ride and barbecue held in September at Whalley Park in Southwick; riders pay a fee, which includes the barbecue. The fundraiser is open to the public, with raffle prizes, many vendors, and the minimal-cost barbecue. Vendors can set up for free with a donation of a gift for the raffle table. The second fundraiser, a car show hosted by Rods & Mods, benefits the Veterans Support Center and is also held at Whalley Park.
Christine says, “The motorcycle ride not only generates needed funds, it also gives a base to be able to reach out to those who need someone to talk with and receive information on how they can be helped. When we set up at events, it gives those who seek help someone to talk to face to face.”
In addition to One Call Away’s devoted staff, many dedicated volunteers give countless hours to support the organization, and an extensive number of local businesses and private donors help to keep the foundation going. For information about the organization, to get support, to volunteer, or to donate, call the office at 413.301.6026 or visit onecallawayfoundation.org.
“I wanted to find a way to help veterans and military members who struggle with problems brought on by PTSD.”
“When we set up at events, it gives those who seek help someone to talk to face to face.”