North Chicago organization puts focus on veterans' needs

Mary Carmody deflects most accolades for the good she does, preferring instead to focus eyes onto the people she pushes to help - the military veterans of Lake County.

  Midwest Veterans Closet Executive Director Mary Carmody, right, and volunteer Terry Devanie of Mundelein help Larry McClure of Kenosha, Wisconsin, with some food items. Carmody borrowed a landscaping trailer to start the Closet in 2013. Steve Lundy/

The Midwest Veterans Closet, 2323 North Green Bay Road in North Chicago, where Carmody is executive director, helps more than 500 veterans a month by providing free essentials such as coats, clothing, and food. All the items are donated to the organization throughout the year.

"I get emails and messages every day asking me to open another Closet in places like San Diego or Houston," she said. "To me, it's pretty sad that our military is waiting outside in the cold for food or coats. If it wasn't for the Closet, there would be a lot more who would go without."

Carmody, 68, began her career as a photojournalist for a newspaper, then worked varying jobs in Lake County before settling in as executive director of Lake County Council of Seniors. It was there she discovered enough wasn't being done to help veterans.

  Mary Carmody, right, helps Larry McClure of Kenosha, Wisconsin, pick out some clothes at the Midwest Veterans Closet in North Chicago. Carmody, 68, is the Closet's founder and executive director. Steve Lundy/

"I quickly learned that a large number of the senior men we helped in Lake County were veterans," she said. "I decided more needed to be done, so I borrowed a landscaping trailer from my longtime friend, Valerie Herson, and opened the Midwest Veterans Closet."

She began the Closet in 2013 and built it up quickly, but the remote location in Wadsworth was too far away for many senior veterans, she said. So, Herson came through again, renting storefront space in the current location on Green Bay Road. Carmody said Herson donated several months of rent to get the location up and running.

  Midwest Veterans Closet Executive Director Mary Carmody, left, and manager Carrie Price load up donations into a pod. Steve Lundy/

Carmody estimates the Midwest Veterans Closet and its other subsidiary charities have helped tens of thousands of veterans with several programs.

Among them, she said, is the Lake County law enforcement-supported veterans coat drive that accepts coat donations and hands out an average of 37 coats a day to veterans across the county.

She said the Lake County Sheriff's Office and "every law enforcement group" in the county gets in on the act by hosting coat drives in various locations.

She also has created the Career Closet, which offers free professional wear and career advice for military men in transition between armed services and professional life.

The Midwest Veterans Closet also distributes turkeys to veterans on Thanksgiving, and established the food nutrition resource center to accept food donations for veterans. It also provides a makeover and etiquette class to assist veterans when starting or getting a job.

"The veterans just feel comfortable here," she said. "We hand them a list of other food pantries they could use, but they just aren't interested. They are comfortable here because they are with other veterans. They don't wish to go anywhere else."

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