YOUNTVILLE — The Veterans Home of California at Yountville was almost unrecognizable on Wednesday.
Its grounds were covered by piles of mulch, gravel, lumber and lattice. About 450 volunteers in tangerine shirts swarmed the campus. They came from all over the country — and paid their own way — to renovate kitchens, lay down grass and build the frame of a six-bedroom home.
Muralists painted the silhouettes of veterans of various wars, an American flag and the logos of U.S. military branches. Volunteers built shaded benches, chairs, fences, gates, and an Americans with Disabilities Act-accessible horseshoe pit and bocce ball court. Home Depot Foundation volunteers packed their bags and headed to the Yountville home, which is the nation’s largest campus for veterans, for the third consecutive year. The foundation draws on a pool of suppliers and vendors to serve as volunteers and takes on projects that benefit veterans, among other groups.
The foundation donated at least $100,000 on products for the event, said Gabe Sneller, program lead for the foundation.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to give back to something this big and this meaningful,” Sneller said.
It took eight months of planning to make Wednesday’s event a reality, said Fred Just, head of the Yountville home. Some projects even required an engineer’s drawing. Everything done Wednesday was suggested by veterans, he said.
“That, to me, is really cool,” he said.
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Just acknowledged that the Yountville home — which was dubbed the “crumbling crown jewel” of the state Veterans Home system in a 2017 report by the state’s watchdog — had a problem with aging facilities. But he noted that a $300 million project to build a new nursing home is in the works, plus the Legislature has appropriated millions to upgrade water lines, roads and more.
“This just adds to and complements the things that are happening,” he said.
At the Brain Food Garden, Tug McGraw Foundation CEO Jennifer Brusstar watched volunteers build a tea house and raised beds for planting produce. Harvests from the garden, which features a chicken coop, go back to residents and community food banks, she said.
Brusstar recalled that the group of volunteers had grown from 75 people to 400 people since the Home Depot Foundation began coming to the campus. Volunteers from as close as the Veterans Home and Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield and as far as a group of Navy SEALs from the East Coast came to participate, she said.
Across the street, Corey Jensen of Colorado was busy building a compost bin for the Tug McGraw Foundation’s Brain Food Garden. He said it was humbling and rewarding to serve veterans on the campus and be around like-minded people who want to help.
“(The Home Depot Foundation) gives the vendor community purpose and reason to come out,” he said.
Michael Livengood and Stewart Smallwood of Alabama shoveled gravel nearby. The pair said they traveled to California to support the veterans and work for a good cause.
“(The veterans) all have smiles on their faces,” Smallwood said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
This story has been updated to reflect the correct worth of products donated for the event.
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