In 2006 the Illinois Lottery launched the first Instant Lottery ticket in the country that designated 100 percent of its profits toward organizations that support veterans in Illinois. Working with the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, the Illinois Lottery has raised over $20 million to fund the Veterans Cash program that has awarded grants to over 400 Veteran support organizations to date. These groups provide various  essential services, including housing assistance, long-term care, disability benefits, employment services, and treatment for post-traumatic stress to the more than half million veterans who live in the state of Illinois. This year’s tickets honoring our veterans is called Winter Winnings and was released at the beginning of November to coincide with Veterans Day. The ticket costs $2 and is available at more than 7,000 Illinois Lottery retailers statewide. With the fun and frosty snowflake design, the Winter Winnings Instant Ticket makes a great stocking stuffer around the holidays for those 18 and over. Visit the Illinois Lottery website for more information about Winter Winnings and other specialty tickets. Read on to learn more about two recent grant recipients, Goodwill Industries of Central Illinois and Midwest Veterans Closet. 

Goodwill Industries of Central Illinois

Based in Peoria, Goodwill Industries of Central Illinois recently received a $30,000 grant for two veteran-support initiatives, the Veterans Employment Program and the Central Illinois Stand Down for Homeless Veterans events, which support more than 320 Illinois veterans and their families each year. The Veterans Employment Program assists veterans returning to the civilian workforce or changing careers through assessing skills and interests, career mapping, job training and placement services, and individualized coaching to help veterans overcome barriers to employment, such as struggles with substance abuse, PTSD, or lack of a high school diploma. Goodwill’s annual Central Illinois Stand Down for Homeless Veterans event is a program providing workshops and seminars on subjects such as sobriety, mental health awareness (including PTSD), and suicide prevention, while also supplying unhoused veterans with warm-weather and other supplies for the cold winter months. The 14th Stand Down for Homeless Veterans event was held in October, and planning is already underway for the event’s 15th anniversary, which will take place in the Fall of 2023. In addition, the grant helps fund the General Wayne A. Downing Home for Veterans. Located in Peoria, the facility was built in 2005 and houses 15 veterans. “[We’re the] only Goodwill in the country that supports and operates a home for veterans and is supervised 24/7,” says Assistant Director of Mission and Program Services Johanna Wagner. “Having a place where veterans can be with other veterans where they receive housing, food, clothing, a support system, and resources like work training provides the support they need against many barriers they face.”

Midwest Veterans Closet

Impacting Veterans Lives, Inc. (dba Midwest Veterans Closet) provides much needed food and goods to unhoused- and housing-insecure veterans, as well as active-duty personnel who are newly assigned to the Naval training center in Great Lakes at their drop-in shopping center in North Chicago. With their recent grant of $97,684 through Illinois Lottery and Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, Midwest Veterans Closet will be able to better support their community of more than 12,000 current and former military members and their families. The organization prioritizes dignity and care for all who walk through its doors. Veterans and service members can shop at their free store for nutritious meals and snacks, paper goods, clothing, housewares, new and gently used furniture, and more. “Last year alone we provided over 514,000 pounds of food from our food pantries to veterans throughout the state,” said executive director Mary Carmody, who anticipates that the organization’s new grant will help them supply even more resources going forward. In addition to running their store, Midwest Veterans Closet provides services such as computer training and employment leads to veterans.