SPRINGFIELD — The December food drive held by the Mental Health Assoc. (MHA) for the National Assoc. of Black Veterans yielded a sleigh’s worth of non-perishable items and much support for NABVETS’ Springfield chapter, one of whose members was recently physically threatened and assaulted with racial slurs.
“We hear so much negativity sometimes in the world; this is the stuff that is really important,” said state Rep. Brian Ashe, who stopped by MHA headquarters on the drive’s final day to make a donation and meet city resident Eugene Brice, the retired disabled Vietnam veteran who was assaulted this fall in Big Y’s East Longmeadow parking lot.
A frequent speaker at veterans’ events, Ashe said the response “warms my heart,” with Brice adding that he and other NABVETS members “are veterans, and we do matter” and that “we are still sworn to look out for our community.”
The 73-year-old Brice, whose 29 years with the U.S. Army included time as a recruiter, was shopping for himself and other NABVETS members when he said a woman in a car verbally abused him and attempted to prevent him from leaving his handicapped van on his motorized scooter.
In organizing the drive for the food pantry of NABVETS’ Springfield chapter, MHA met with Brice, who had told the media that the assault triggered his post-traumatic stress disorder and set back his speech therapy.
“The three bedrocks on which our organization was founded are respect, integrity, and compassion, and after reading that story, I thought that situation was so counter to what we believe in that we had to do something,” said Kimberley Lee, MHA’s vice president of Resource Development and Branding. “We wanted to mobilize not only in support of Eugene and other veterans who sacrificed in their service to country, but also in support of the Springfield chapter of NABVETS.”
Lee added that the drive also provided the opportunity for Brice “to talk with us about the mental-health needs of veterans.”
“The encounter with this woman really set him back in triggering his PTSD, but he told us he prays for her every night,” Lee said. “He is an amazing man.”