SPRINGFIELD — A recent news story about how Vietnam veteran Eugene Brice was physically threatened and called a racial slur prompted the Mental Health Assoc. (MHA) to organize a holiday food drive for the Springfield chapter of the National Assoc. of Black Veterans (NABVETS), of which Brice is a longtime member.
“We are hoping that people not just from within MHA but the community will stop by,” said Kimberley Lee, MHA’s vice president of Resource Development and Branding. “We have two very large, beautifully decorated collection boxes in the front office at our Worthington Street headquarters.”
The abuse directed at Brice occurred Oct. 30 when he attempted to exit on his motorized scooter from his handicapped van in the parking lot of the Big Y in East Longmeadow.
Lee called what happened “very disturbing” in its racism as well as disrespect for a 73-year-old veteran who was wounded in Vietnam and who served 29 years in the U.S. Army. The city resident received numerous awards as an Army recruiter and was named Springfield Veteran of the Year for his service as well as volunteer work with veterans.
Brice has said the verbal assault and physical threat from a woman who used her car to temporarily block his mobility triggered his post-traumatic stress disorder and derailed his speech therapy, leaving him feeling vulnerable and debased as someone who fought for his country.
“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,” Lee said. “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.
“Eugene was really open about his PTSD and appreciative that MHA is doing this food drive,” she added. “As a provider of mental-health services, it was also an opportunity for him to talk with us about the mental-health needs of veterans.”
Brice’s encounter with the woman in the parking lot “really set him back in triggering his PTSD, but he told us he prays for her every night. He is an amazing man,” Lee went on. “A further harm for Eugene in the encounter was that, in trying to get away from her, he had to go over a curb at the grocery store, and that took out the undercarriage of his scooter.”
Non-perishable food items may be dropped off at MHA at 995 Worthington St., Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“We are eager and energized to mobilize our staff in honoring him and the veterans, and I hope the community will join us in this food drive that runs through Dec. 23,” Lee said. “We want to get the donated items to the veterans before Christmas for their holiday meal.”