Department of Indiana combining membership event with veterans assistance, family day

Department of Indiana combining membership event with veterans assistance, family day

The American Legion Department of Indiana had a tradition of a Close of Books event that took place over the summer and served as the final card turn-in for the membership year. The event took place in West Lafayette at the Indiana Veterans’ Home.

But when he was preparing for his year as department commander for 2023-2024, Legionnaire Robert Oeth started thinking about doing something different. And over a plate of chicken wings in Indianapolis, he and current Department Membership Chairman David Miller started coming up with a plan.

The result: a three-day Close of Books 2024 event that not only has a membership component, but also adds an at-risk veterans day and a family day. The event will take place June 7-9 at department headquarters in Indianapolis.

“We were looking at things we’d done in the past: why this worked, why this didn’t work,” said Oeth, a 53-year Legionnaire and member of American Legion Post 351 in Elberfeld, Ind. “It was, ‘Let’s think of something a little bit different.’”

Later on, Oeth learned that the U.S. Department of Labor offered grants for veteran stand downs to veteran service organizations. “That really kind of sparked the interest,” Oeth said. “And the wheels just started turning.”

From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, June 7, the Department of Indiana will be bringing in a mobile barbershop to provide free haircuts and a mobile dental clinic to provide check-ups and care. Four department service officers will be on site to file new or check on existing U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs claims; representatives from a homeless veterans facility, the Red Cross and other veteran-related organizations will be in attendance.  

Free lunch will be provided, and any veterans who attend will be given backpack care packages that include hygiene products, clothing, shoes and other items.

Veterans in the Indianapolis area who cannot drive themselves to the event will be provided transportation services, including veterans staying in homeless facilities, as well any residents of the Indiana Veterans’ Home who also want to attend.

“Hopefully we can get several out there that day and help them out,” said Oeth.

The next day from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., the department has scheduled veteran-owned food trucks to be in attendance. For children, there will be a bounce house and various games, while patriotic vendors and military vehicles also will be on display. Service officers will again be in attendance.

And on Sunday, June 9, the normal Close of Books will take place. “Membership is a big thing,” Oeth said. “But we think Friday and Saturday are also a big plus if we can help these veterans in the area. We need to change sometimes and have people look in a different direction. Hopefully, by combining all this, it gives people a better sense of what we’re supposed to be doing.”