NEWINGTON – A pandemic can be a challenging time for military veterans. Resources are not as readily available and camaraderie becomes tougher to nurture.
The Newington Vet Coffee House had just been established in Jan. 2020 when covid-19 hit. Now organizers are rekindling connections and launching efforts again, in hopes of relieving the loneliness and despair that is so prevalent right now.
“It’s been heavy in my heart lately reading all the reports about the increase of veterans suicide; it’s gone up 20 percent since the shutdown for covid-19,” Chris Veilleux, the Newington resident who started the coffee house, said in a video he posted to the group’s Facebook page the first week of October. “If you have a neighbor or friend or fellow vet you know of please check in on them.”
A veteran of Operation Desert Storm, Veilleux moved to town a few years back, after the Rev. Jim Wiltshire opened The Chapel on New Britain Avenue. He was a member of the church in Manchester where the Wiltshire family used to serve.
“I’ve known Chris for years,” Pastor Jim told the Herald and Town Crier Tuesday. “The coffee house for veterans has been something Chris has had the desire to do for a long time. He is very connected with the inner circle of veterans who need help and assistance, and he’s got a good group of local businesses that support the effort. The energy is good.”
Initial gatherings of the NVCH were held inside the church, but had to be suspended once the pandemic shut down facilities and gatherings. Then a free giveaway of face masks and hand sanitizer in August reignited something in Veilleux to start up NVCH again.
“A lot of veterans showed up and they said how much they missed the coffee house,” he said. “That’s why I wanted to get it started up again. September was the first event.”
NVCH gatherings are now being held monthly inside the American Legion Post 117 at 294 Willard Ave., Newington. This November, hours will be expanded to every Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Veilleux’s goal is to eventually be able to bring in guest speakers to discuss topics relevant to vets, including VA benefits, life after service, PTSD, and financial planning.
But first and foremost, his mission is to foster camaraderie among veterans.
“I used to live up in Danielson and they had a coffee house up there for veterans,” he explained. “When I moved to Newington I thought it would be a great idea to do something for veterans here.”
He’s reaching out to older folks especially, who don’t use social media or have the means to get out much, and can use some good coffee and conversation.
“I’m wishing all of you that are out there that feel alone and isolated please stay encouraged as best as possible,” Veilleux said in his video message on Facebook. “It takes the courage of a soldier to ask for help right now, and we really need you to be courageous.”
NVCH is free of cost thanks to community and business sponsors, including Neptune Cremation Service in Newington. For more details or if you need help finding a ride to an upcoming gathering, call Chris at 860-540-6549, email firstname.lastname@example.org or search for Newington-Vet-Coffee-House on Facebook.com.
Veterans Day falls on a Wednesday this year, and the NVCH is working on organizing a ‘Lunch with a Veteran’ event. Check back in upcoming issues of the Newington Town Crier or New Britain Herald for updates.
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at email@example.com