WILKES-BARRE – Constance Hartman's Pennies from Heaven drive means more than just helping out homeless veterans each year at Christmas time.
It's about honoring the memories of her husband and son, who both served many years in branches of the U.S. military.
And, bringing awareness to the fact that Hartman says there should be no homeless veterans.
They've done so much for our country, Hartman said. I just feel sorry for them…and I want to honor my husband and son who loved the service.
Her husband, Edgar, who died at the age of 82, served in the Marine Corps; her son, Frank, who died at 61, attained the rank of petty officer in the Navy, and Hartman's father, Henry Brennan, also served in the Army, she said.
Hartman, 79, of Hanover Township, began Pennies from Heaven with no pennies at all but just the help of some friends when her son was stationed in Mississippi and wanted to provide knitted items to fellow soldiers.
Knitted items for about 20 soldiers quickly turned into 175 soldiers, and a cause Hartman adored.
The next year, I started collecting pennies, Hartman said, noting she raised about $100 to purchase items needed for local veterans and distributed them through Catholic Social Services.
This year, her drive exploded.
I didn't expect to get so much help from people. I was overwhelmed, Hartman said.
She said that through working with Catholic Social Services, she learned 60 homeless area veterans were in need of items, such as clothes and hygiene products.
Local Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legions, and Hartman's own Red Hat Society began collecting money, as well as anyone who had heard about Hartman's efforts and was willing to help.
Soon, she was able to purchase sweatshirts, jeans, toothbrushes, soap and other items for all 60 veterans.
It was a big endeavor this year, Hartman said, noting wrapping paper and boxes were donated by department store magnate Al Boscov.
Items will be delivered to veterans today, Hartman said.
She'll continue to hold Pennies from Heaven each year, she said, as long as she's still around.
I always tell my daughter (Beth Hartman) to carry on the tradition when I'm gone, so it goes on forever, Hartman said.
Monsignor Joseph Kelly, executive director of Catholic Social Services, said that a few years ago when Hartman wanted to talk with him about how she could help veterans, he knew he could lead her in the right direction.
Kelly said that at the time there were 30 homeless veterans Catholic Social Services was assisting, and Hartman jumped at the chance.
This year, when told she had to double her efforts, Kelly said Hartman was equally enthusiastic and made sure gifts would be available for each of the 60 veterans.
She insisted it be presents, not gift cards, Kelly said. We originally asked her for a $10 gift card to Wendy's (fast food restaurant). She said ‘That's nonsense, everyone likes to open a gift on Christmas day.'
Kelly said Hartman has gone above and beyond what was asked of her, and that it isn't Hartman working just a couple weeks before Christmas to make sure the veterans have gifts.
It's something you do throughout the year, Kelly said.
Kelly said Catholic Social Services helps homeless veterans in many ways, including transitional housing and permanent homes at the recently constructed apartments at St. Hedwig's Veterans Village in Kingston that will serve 12 chronically homeless vets.
Kelly said there are veterans his organization helps in Lackawanna and Pike counties, too.
And even though Hartman's drive was successful and completed this year, Kelly says those veterans are still in need.
We're going to be housing 12 veterans permanently in the Kingston apartments, and we need furnishings for those apartments, he said, noting the essentials of socks and underwear are always in high demand.
Socks, underwear, hygiene products, new linens, new towels, new silverware, new plates, new cups/mugs
Catholic Social Services is one of several agencies and nonprofit organizations featured in this year's Giving Guide.
Donations, whether monetary or in items for the wish list, can be made by calling Monsignor Joseph Kelly at 822-7118