Veteran groups reboot after social distancing restrictions halted activities.
Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10095 Commander Dave Lewis described how the three-month shutdown affected the post’s community participation. The post reopened June 5.
The VFW serves alcohol in the canteen, with proceeds used to assist with overhead costs and community outreach projects
“The biggest thing I want to get across is when you see any veteran organizations in public, the vets are there to raise money to give away,” Lewis said. “We are legitimate. That money is going to veterans, veterans’ families and the community at large.”
In December, the VFW donated more than $500 to pay off school lunch balances at Hilliard Elementary and Hilliard Middle-Senior High School. The vets regularly assist other vets with fuel costs or a meal as they pass through town.
The post commander voiced concern for his fellow veterans who were in quarantine for several weeks.
“You’ve got these veterans, they’re sitting home alone – unemployed on top of it, you know, they’re laid off, lost their jobs and all that,” Lewis said.
The shutdown caused veterans to be separated from their comrades.
“Our guys, our veterans, need an outlet to come up and hang out with other guys,” Lewis said. “The mental part of it is sometimes way worse than the physical part.”
The Blank Check Society of America Nassau County Chapter had scheduled a blood drive for mid-May, which was held. Carryout meals were prepared and distributed to blood donors.
Auxiliary President Amanda Pope said that the closure halted the group’s progression. The auxiliary had just started back up in September, but had to stop activities in mid-March. The group plans to restart activities when it meets in July.
Roger Allen is an officer in the VFW, AMVETS Post 2007 and the Vietnam Veterans of American Chapter 1088. He is also a member of the American Legion C.W. Hilliard Post 401.
The VVA chapter meets in Yulee once a month, but those meetings were canceled. The veterans hold raffles to raise funds for veterans in need too.
“We raise it so that we can give it away,” Allen said. “We meet for the brotherhood and the camaraderie and we try to make money to give it away.”
He added, “Our big thing is scholarships. We give out $1,000 scholarships to the local high schools, both Nassau and Camden counties. We try to raise enough money to give out about five of them every year. Last year we could only do four. This year, we had enough to do five.”
Despite the financial challenges, VFW Quartermaster Joe Wright said that funds are set aside for programs. The post donates funds toward veteran retirement homes in Florida and a children’s home in Grand Rapids, Mich. The post has also assisted veterans affected by hurricanes in North Carolina and in the Florida Panhandle
“Now we’re not in a position to do much,” Lewis said.
“Having our canteens closed, you know, hurt us dramatically,” Wright said. “We didn’t have income for almost three months.”
Still, the post had enough to make it through the pandemic.
“If there is a second wave, there would be a possibility that we’d have to shut down,” Wright said, adding that it would take a while to reopen. “That would be heartbreaking for not only us, but the members that are here.”
Blank Check Society of America National President and Chaplain Mike Mekara said that the group is behind its fundraising goal for its Wreaths Across America project Dec. 19. At $15 each, at least 13,000 wreaths will be created and laid at the cemetery.
“Whatever happens to the VFW happens to us, because we can’t have meetings and we can’t have fundraisers,” Mekara said, adding that as businesses and posts reopen, he expects the groups will get back on track.
Moving forward, the society plans to host a pork butt cook-off at 11 a.m. Nov. 7 at the VFW. Numerous teams will participate in the cook-off that serves as a fundraiser. A blood drive is also planned.
The VFW hosts fundraisers via the purchase of poppies in memory of the fallen. The next poppy drive will be held at the Winn Dixie stores in Hilliard and Callahan July 4.