When Veterans move into Old Main, the cupboards won’t be bare and the bedrooms won’t be empty.

Thanks to efforts by a variety of groups and individuals, those Veterans will find many of their essentials already provided:

  • Military Outreach USA has donated 40 mattresses with box springs, bed frames and pillows.
  • The Junior League of Milwaukee is giving gifts bags that include welcome notes along with dish towels, cleaning supplies, hot pads and treats.
  • Erin Olson of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation has gathered items for each of the 101 units. Those items range from shower curtains and garbage cans to blankets and soap to be included in welcome baskets.
  • Members of the West Suburban Quilters Guild of Brookfield have created handmade quilts for the Veterans. (Click here for the story.)

“Our goal is to turn these apartments into homes and provide some comfort for the Veterans so they have some things of their own,” Olson said.

Erin Olson shows some of the inspirational placards that will go to Veterans moving into Old Main. The placards are part of large welcome baskets Olson has assembled.

In March, the historic Milwaukee Soldiers Home and surrounding buildings are slated to open as permanent housing for Veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. The project includes Old Main.

Old Main opened in 1867 as one of the three original Soldiers Homes. President Abraham Lincoln established the homes after the Civil War to provide homes for disabled Veterans.

Also included are the Administration Building just south of Old Main, three nearby duplexes and a separate single-family home on the campus.

Vacant since 1989, the Milwaukee Soldiers Home has undergone significant renovation in the past 18 months, led by Alexander Co. and general contractor JP Cullen.

As the project nears completion, groups and individuals have been stepping up to do their part.

$5,000 worth of supplies in welcome baskets

Olson’s project was born from her work with the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, which was part of the fundraising arm of the renovation project.

The project piqued her interest, and about a year ago she began pursuing the welcome baskets collection outside of work.

Reaching out to friends, families and colleagues via social media, Olson was able to collect some $5,000 worth of items that will be gathered into the 101 welcome baskets.

Collected in a laundry basket will be soap, bath towels, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, kitchen towels, bathmats, potholders, conditioner, combs and a variety of other home essentials. In addition, each basket will include a card offering encouragement and inspiration.

Donations pour in for Vets moving to former Soldiers Home.

She also collected books, puzzles, DVDs and games for the buildings’ common areas.

“It’s not just one and done,” Olson said. “We hope to come back with other items, including artwork, plants and other things once people are settled. We hope this is just the start.”

Forty beds from churches and community groups

Military Outreach USA is a charity group that provides beds to Veterans in need. It works with churches, community groups and other organizations to raise the funds to purchase the beds and other move-in essentials.

Milwaukee VA reached out to them to provide the beds and the group was eager to answer the call.

“We’re so excited to do this,” said Sue Brown, Military Outreach USA, noting the group works with Veterans exiting homelessness. “Normally we do this on a small, as-needed basis. This is 40 beds. That’s a big thing for us.”

Love doing something for local Veterans

Bartlett said she was looking for a project for the Junior League when she found an article online about Old Main.

It was a perfect fit.

“I was looking for something to help Veterans,” Bartlett said. “Plus, we have a singing group that sings at Milwaukee VA once or twice a year. When I pitched this project to the group, it won out unanimously. They loved we were doing something with local Veterans. This feels great. It’s nice to have a small part in such a big, impactful project.”

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Published on Mar. 13, 2021

Estimated reading time is 3.5 min.

Views to date: 183


  1. martin l ganderson March 17, 2021 at 11:11 pm

    Wonderful to learn of this vital project

  2. Jay Beard March 17, 2021 at 4:03 pm

    I’m confused. There’s 101 units but only 40 mattress sets. What am I missing?

  3. Charles Roberts March 14, 2021 at 4:50 pm

    This is waht’s needed instead of tearing down existing buildings.

    • Jennifer MacQueen March 17, 2021 at 4:14 pm

      Exactly. These kinds of buildings and other empty barracks and family housing on shuttered posts and bases all over the country could be converted into permanent supportive housing for veterans.

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