September is always National Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month, and for the fifth consecutive year Lake County Veterans and Family Services Foundation (LCVFSF) held The Ruck March of Lake County called Ruck Up 2021.  The annual event is held to increase awareness of the tragedy of Veteran suicides while raising funds to provide support to Veterans, service members and their families, free and confidentially regardless of discharge status.

This year’s Ruck Up 2021, like 2020, was a virtual event due to COVID restrictions.  Participants pledged to cover 22 kilometers, symbolizing the estimated 22 Veterans per day who take their own lives. Some marchers chose to carry a ruck sack (or backpack) loaded with 22-plus pounds to honor the fallen Veterans.  The weight in the ruck sack symbolizes the daily loss of life as well as the emotional and physical weight carried by those burdened from the suicide of someone they knew.

They covered the 22K, or about 14 miles in a variety of ways: walk, run, march, bike, swim…their choice.  And it was done in one day or over 22 days from September 1st to September 22nd.

Participants, sponsors, partners, and organizations donate to help LCVFSF continue to address the issues underlying the causes of Veteran suicides.  In addition to various programs for service members to connect with each other, the foundation operates a Drop-in Center 10 am to 5 pm on weekdays.  It is a welcoming, safe, and confidential place for Veterans to meet and socialize with other Veterans and to ask for help if they need it before any thoughts of harming themselves become active.

“This year 133 marchers participated in our Ruck March, by far the most we have ever had,” said Operations and Program Manager Dean Adams who produced and directed the march.  “But we had a total of 455 individuals and organizations donate to the campaign.”

Major donors included AbbVie, The Pritzker Military Foundation and Library, Buckeye Partners, Culvers, Rust-Oleum, Aptinyx, Mix-Talent, Wilkins Rebuilders, Jordy Construction, American Heroes Coffee, Lake County Fire Chiefs, The Darley Foundation, Boy Scout Troop 672, St. Patrick High School, and the Mundelein American Legion. Family donors also included Pam and David Waud, Dan and Nancy Kreer, Bob and Mariann Gorman, Stan and Susan McCracken, Ron and Barb Bruner and the Tom Dunn family.

Funds donated to the foundation also are used to provide help to Veterans who are faced with emergencies such as homelessness and food insecurity.  “Our Vets-in-Need program is just one of many ways we reach out into the community and work on behalf of Veterans,” Adams said.

“We are very grateful to every marcher and every donor,” Adams continued. “This year to date we have helped 1,503 service members thanks to the support.  We are happy to have raised awareness of Veteran suicides and grateful to continue to provide support to Veterans, service members and their families.”

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If you are thinking about harming yourself, call the 24-hour Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255.  Veterans then press (1).