A group of congressional staffers who served in the military are hoping to use attention focused on them this Veterans Day weekend to bring fellow veterans together and give back to their Capitol Hill community.
On Friday "HillVets," a group of Capitol Hill staffers who are also veterans, will host its second annual "Vets 4 Kids Coat Crawl" to collect coats and raise money to buy coats for children at the D.C. General Homeless Shelter.
The "Coat Crawl" is a pub crawl to three Capitol Hill watering holes that kicks off at 5:30 p.m. Attendees can bring a children's coat or make a monetary donation, and will receive tickets for a beer at each restaurant. A participant who donates $40 will also receive a signed copy of "March," the graphic novel by Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. Participating bars include The Dubliner, Bearnaise and Bullfeathers. Geoff Browning of the local band B Side Shuffle will perform a solo acoustic set at The Dubliner at 6 p.m.
"One of the big tenets of HillVets was looking for ways to highlight other organizations, empower veterans and give back to the local community,” co-founder Justin Brown said in a Wednesday phone interview.
Brown, a Navy veteran and Hill staffer, said the event is an opportunity to bring veterans together and also help children and raise awareness about the D.C. General Homeless Shelter, which is less than two miles from Capitol Hill, right down East Capitol Street.
"I think we make a pretty significant difference through the small donation of a coat," said Brown. "They’re less than a couple miles away and worlds apart from the day-to-day of folks who generally work on the Hill and in D.C.”
Last year's coat drive resulted in 200 coats sent to the children at the shelter. This year, HillVets set an ambitious goal of bringing a coat to each of the 450 children expected to live at the shelter during the winter. So far, Brown said they have reached 25 percent of that goal.
The group's deadline is Sunday, Nov. 9, when its members plan to deliver coats to the homeless shelter. Asked about reaching their goal, Brown said they are "certainly hopeful," though he noted, "It's kind of a stretch from here."
Friday's event is one of several the staffer group hosts throughout the year, including networking events for veterans looking to work in Congress.
Brown said the group was founded in 2012 because of a lack of networking opportunities and groups to engage veterans on Capitol Hill.
HillVets is also working to encourage more members of Congress to hire veterans. A 2013 HillVets survey identified 98 veterans working on Capitol Hill, and the group projected that less than 3 percent of Hill staffers were veterans.
The group hopes to double that figure by the end of 2015 and sent a press release Wednesday encouraging newly elected members and Senate Republicans' incoming majority to use their positions to hire veterans.
Clarification 11:25 a.m. Earlier information in this post was unclear about which members of the band B Side Shuffle were performing.
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