Helping veterans in need is Shelton police lieutenant’s mission

SHELTON — Robert Kozlowsky has made it his mission to aid military veterans in need - from housing to clothing to hope.

Hundreds of miles and dozens of donated pairs of boots later, it is becoming a mission accomplished.

Kozlowsky, the longtime Shelton police lieutenant and board member of Bridgeport-based Homes for the Brave, is co-chairing “General Needs 1342 Mission,” the goal of which is to donate 1,342 pairs of boots (22 a day for 61 days over the two months) and 8,030 pairs of socks (22 a day for an entire year) in November and December to those veterans in need from Maine to Washington, D.C.

Kozlowsky, alongside General Needs founder and CEO Lonnie Sherman and organization volunteer Judy Emiliano, hit the road Nov. 1, driving some 1,300 miles and stopping at facilities that aid veterans from Maine to Connecticut over a three-day period.

The trio made their final stop of the journey’s first leg Wednesday at Homes for the Brave, at which Kozlowsky is a past board president and a current board member.

“I’ll never forget the smiles,” Kozlowsky, who recently began volunteering at General Needs, said about those veterans he met while delivering boots. “They were so appreciative for something that we all take for granted - boots. It met so much to them.”

Donating the boots was only one part of the mission. The other, according to Kozlowsky, was continuing to raise awareness about the high rate of suicide among veterans.

Kozlowsky said statistics show an average of 22 military veterans die by suicide daily.

“General Needs, which is a 100 percent volunteer nonprofit, is raising awareness about the 22,” Kozlowsky said.

General Needs was founded in 2008 to assist veterans, including those who are homeless, by providing new daily-living clothing. This can include items such as coats, jackets, hats, scarves, ski gloves, thermal underwear/socks, sweatshirts, sweatpants, blankets, footwear and toiletries.

During his many stops between Nov. 1 and Nov. 3, Kozlowsky said more than a dozen veterans he met told him they had attempted suicide. He said that the stories were heartbreaking, and were a further inspiration for him to continue his mission to assist those veterans in need and raise awareness.

“Several veterans that we gave boots to approached us and stated that they tried to commit suicide at one time and they really appreciated the boots and, more importantly, knowing that people care about them,” Kozlowsky said.

Kozlowsky called General Needs’ campaign a team effort, with volunteers packing and labeling the boxes of boots and organization co-founder Susan Sherman handling all the logistics for the more than 1,000 miles so far.

The team will be handing out pairs of boots for the next several weeks in New York and New Jersey before hitting the road again the first week of December for planned stops in Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and wrapping up in Washington, D.C.

“If my work leads to one veteran deciding not to attempt to commit suicide, then I’ve reached by goal,” Kozlowsky said.

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com