'U' donates stockpiled Nike apparel to veterans

BY NICOLE ABER
Daily Staff Reporter
Published December 8, 2008

In the spirit of holiday giving, a recent gift from the University has provided much more than a box and a bow to some needy Michigan veterans.

Benji Dell/Daily

Thanks to a donation from the University Athletic Department, boxes of unused Nike apparel will no longer be collecting dust in storage this holiday season. The clothing will instead be sent to Michigan veterans across the state and stationed in Iraq.

When the University terminated its contract with Nike and signed with Adidas this summer, more than 5,200 pieces of Nike apparel were left at the Athletic Department’s disposal.

University Athletic Director Bill Martin contacted Michael Harris, executive director of the Michigan Paralyzed Veterans of America, and offered to donate the unused Nike-branded Michigan apparel, which included T-shirts, pants, sweatshirts and heavy coats.

The move may be a show of solidarity, coming just a year after the Michigan paralyzed Veterans of America filed a lawsuit against the University, claiming that Michigan Stadium didn’t offer enough handicapped-accessible seats.

After months of debate, the University reached a settlement with the veteran's group, which required them to bring stadium facilities into compliance with the American With Disabilities Act and add 92 wheelchair-accessible seats.

Rick Briggs, Jr., manager of the Brain Injury Association of Michigan Veterans Program, lead the team who collected, organized and distributed the apparel.

“This is the first one like this of this magnitude,” Briggs said. “This is a huge donation.”

Marty Bodnar, associate athletic director for ticketing and marketing, said that in organizing the program the Athletic Department worked with the Paralyzed Veterans of America, two veterans' homes, five VA hospitals, and the Veterans of Detroit to develop a program that shipped the apparel to veterans at VA medical facilities and to military members currently serving in Iraq.

Briggs said they had about 80 volunteers, including veterans and people from the Salvation Army, helping out with the organization and packing of the apparel.

Last week, three tractor trailers full of University apparel were sent to the veterans facilities, Briggs said.

Harris said the donations were especially in need as the holiday season approaches.

“It was a nice gesture on the University of Michigan’s part, especially this time of year, to donate to the Michigan veterans,” Harris said.

Brigade General Carol Ann Fausone, assistant adjutant general of the State Department of Military and Veterans Affairs in Lansing, worked with Briggs and Harris in the organization of the service project.

“All of this wouldn’t have happened if the University of Michigan hadn’t selected our veterans,” Fausone said.

The apparel, which ranged from shorts and T-shirts to sweatshirts and windbreakers, was stored in a western Ann Arbor warehouse provided by First Class Services, Inc., a carpet cleaning company.

Jim Fagan, the owner of the carpet cleaning company and a veteran of 13 years, decided to contribute to the project in an effort to help out the veteran community.

He said that although the vast majority of the boxes had been shipped last week, about $90,000 worth of shoes remains at the warehouse and will be shipped out to the Detroit Veterans Center early next week.

The Ann-Arbor based Graf-O’Hara VFW Post 423 paid for the shipping costs, including the shipment of 145 pairs of shoes to Iraq, Bodnar said.