Open to the public
By BOB KLIEBENSTEIN
Don Roach hopes the Tomah community is not misled.
Don't be misled by its connection with the Veterans Assistance Foundation, Inc. (VAF). Don't be misled by the sign above the building entrance that prominently features a smiling soldier with a cup of joe (coffee) in hand.
G.I. Need That Veterans Resale Store and Cup O' Joe Coffee Shop and Community Center is just that. A location for the entire community, veterans and non-vets to shop and interact. The thrift store/coffee shop opened for business Nov. 30, 2016 in the former Hardware Hank store at 1118 Superior Ave. The VAF purchased the adjoining building, a former cafe and tattoo shop in its previous life before being razed.
Ashley Bean was hired as store manager.
"Business has been steady," Bean said. "Things have been going well."
Bean did not serve in the military, but her father served in the Navy and her grandfather in the Marines. She enjoys daily interaction with veterans who step through the doors each day. But as mentioned earlier, the VAF developed the business to serve the Tomah community, said Don Roach, VAF executive director.
"This is for the entire community to come in. Anyone can shop here," Roach said, adding he encourages residents who have not served to stop in and interact with veterans in the coffee shop.
The interior is split between retail space and coffee shop with several booths and television to relax. Coffee, donuts and snack chips are available for purchase. The thrift shop carries gently used clothing, an array of house wares and other daily living needs. Revenue is invested back in the business and employee wages.
With warmer weather around the corner, plans call for some tables and chairs to be set outside in a landscaped area designated for green space. A flagpole will be erected on site.
Roach is eager for renovation of the second level into apartments for veterans to lease. A project that has moved slower than hoped when first announced in late 2015. Roach said contractors are expected to start work later this month. With money from a Home Depot Foundation grant, the second level will include eight apartments for veterans to lease.
There will be five one bedroom apartments, one efficiency apartment and two, two bedroom apartments. At this time there is no definitive completion date. Local contractors will be used for the project, Roach added. He expressed thanks for generosity of many businesses that donated time and materials to get the project to its current state.
Case managers will be on site to assist veterans with questions on services they may need. Bingo is played once a month. Employees update a large binder at the entrance with job opportunities for vets seeking employment. For those interested in nostalgia numerous copies of Life magazine are available to browse.
The apartments supplement the VAF Step Up housing program, Roach said. The transitional housing program includes four houses in Tomah with three veterans living in each, single male vets who need additional assistance to transition to independent living.
At some point Roach anticipates an open house once the apartments are lease ready. Hours for G.I. Need That and Cup O' Joe are Monday through Friday 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. It is closed Sunday.
Bean encourages anyone interested in volunteering to stop in and talk. Most of the work involves sorting and washing clothes and helping unload items from donors. There is no self drop area for donations. Staff insist on being present when people bring donations to verify the quality. Bean said the store is also a resource for those who need to perform court-ordered community service.