Vinnie Palumbo served his time. He spent more than six years in the Army, but it isn’t his service that propelled him to act – it’s the service of a friend. Vinnie runs an auto repair shop and got to talking with a customer, Walter Hall. Walter was a prisoner of war in Korea and shared his stories of struggle upon returning to the states.
Vinnie says there are too many of those stories, and he and his friends want to do something about it. Together with Lisa D’Ambra, Steven Quirini and his wife, Elly, Vinnie is putting together An Evening Dedicated to Our Veterans, a fundraiser to benefit the Providence VA Medical Center.
“We really need to show our support for the men and women who fight for our freedom,” said D’Ambra, a resident of Warwick.
Quirini’s father is a veteran, as is D’Ambra’s, and many of her friends. They have found over time that everyone is connected to a veteran in one way or another.
“Not until you speak about it do you realize,” Vinnie said. “I didn’t realize how many people were veterans or were connected to veterans.”
Vinnie and Quirini, both of Johnston, have been friends for many years and most recently worked with Elly and D’Ambra to raise money for the Rhode Island Family Shelter. This time around, Vinnie was bound and determined to help veterans, and his friends jumped on board. They looked at several veterans’ organizations and settled on the VA, reaching out to Donna Russillo, the chief of Voluntary Service at the VA Medical Center in Providence.
“For somebody to want to do this, we’re so grateful,” she said.
The group has spent the past two months putting together their fundraiser, which will be held next Friday, May 17, from 7 to 11 p.m. at the Santa Maria DiPrata Club in Cranston. Tickets are $30 per person, which includes dinner from Ralph’s Catering and entertainment from Starzz Entertainment, Quirini’s company. The team is hoping to sell 170 tickets, filling the venue to capacity. Tickets must be purchased in advance and can be done by May 15 by calling D’Ambra at 451-5500.
“I believe this is going to be a great success,” Vinnie said. “I want to see it become an annual event.”
Hall, the man who inspired the event, is hoping to make it to the fundraiser and say a few words. He had surgery recently and is still recovering.
“I told him, ‘If you survived being a POW, this will be a walk in the park,’” Vinnie said.
After a brief speaking program, Starzz will take over. The evening’s entertainment will feature five singers, a dancer, comedian David DeLorenzo from Johnston and the 2012 Miss Rhode Island Outstanding Teen.
Raffle prizes include gift certificates to area restaurants for as much as $100, tickets to Trinity Repertory Company and tickets to two different shows at Foxwoods Resort and Casino.
“We’ve gotten an overwhelming response. Very few people have said no,” said D’Ambra.
The team is considering putting a collection box on site as well, where people can donate clothing.
“I’ll take anything and it will be used. We need a lot,” Russillo said. “Anything that you can give me, I’ll find a way to use it.”
Russillo’s position covers a lot of ground, and donations and fundraising given to the VA is spread across many areas, from clothing and food to housing and health care, and even recreation. Russillo has more than 20 accounts for each of these programs, and donations can be earmarked for specific items just by writing the request in the memo line of a check. Proceeds from this event can be directed as guests see fit.
“Anybody who donates any type of money to us can tell us where they want the money to go,” she said.
Russillo is thrilled that this group of friends have decided to support veterans, but she is not surprised that awareness of the challenges facing these service men and women continues to increase.
“So many of our veterans now are the sons and daughters and grandchildren of veterans,” she said. “If you’re in a conflict and you’re worried about your child, all of a sudden, it’s real.”