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Vets foundation kicks off fund-raising campaign

By Staff | Mar 20, 2013

The Invest in America’s Veterans Associa-tion has grown quickly since being founded more than three years ago.

And the foundation has some pretty lofty plans for its future.

But it’s going to take money.

That’s why the foundation kicked off its fundraising campaign Tuesday at its headquarters on Leonard Street in downtown Cape Coral at the old Sweetbay.

During the weekly luncheon for Korean and World War II veterans, Mayor John Sullivan stopped by to present the first check to the tune of $10,000, which will go toward the $1.3 million the group hopes to raise this year – $300,000 of which needs to be raised as soon as possible.

Ultimately, Santillo said $3 million will be needed to redo the building’s interior and perhaps build a new structure to house its offices and the museum.

Ralph Santillo, executive director of the foundation, said the money is needed to help fund its many veterans aid and educational programs, as well as to fund the purchase of its current location.

“We’ve been here since September and are in the process of purchasing it from the Sweetbay organization,” Santillo said.

Santillo and a few dozen war veterans were on hand as Sullivan, who, was introduced by Santillo as a “citizen,” handed them the check.

Sullivan talked with great admiration about his uncle, who served in Korea, and about the importance the foundation has in helping vets and educating the young about what those who served went through.

“This place is the history of what happened and what our veterans did to help us keep our way of life. That’s why it’s so important these folks are able to get this off the ground,” Sullivan said. “To be a reminder of what those sacrifices were by those who made them.”

The foundation’s primary mission is to help veterans, regardless of when they served. For newer veterans, they help explain what their benefits are, helping them with their G.I. Bill, get into college, or find them counseling for problems they may have.

But Santillo soon found out the older vets also needed help – food, companionship and other needs.

“I started it with respect for veterans and realized they were coming out of service that needed assistance, and found out that not only the newer veterans, but the older ones needed more assistance than they were getting,” Santillo said.

The foundation was started by Santillo and the late Stanley Weinberg, and opened its doors on Del Prado Boulevard on Sept. 11, 2009 in a tiny storefront.

Over time, the foundation evolved into a museum after Santillo displayed his son’s military uniform.

“Before long, veterans started coming in and started getting help and brought in memorabilia,” Santillo said. “All of what we have has been donated by local veterans.”

Today, the museum is home to artifacts such as a Jeep, a Nazi flag, gasmasks, army medals and other things as a testament to what these veterans have done.

“I can’t think of a better way to have a museum just so people understand the tremendous things these veterans have done for their country,” Sullivan said.

The building and museum is at 4820 Leonard St.

For more information or to donate, contact the foundation at 541-8704.