‘Our devotion to mutual helpfulness’

"In times of great stress or adversity, it’s always best to keep busy, to plow your anger and your energy into something positive." – Lee Iacocca

"When written in Chinese the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity." – John F. Kennedy

In more eloquent prose than I could conjure up, both of the above quotes speak of the same thing: making the most of a bad situation. When things appear to be at their very worst, there often lies the possibility of turning the worst into something positive.

Legionnaires are very good at this. That’s something I’ve noticed in my 30-plus years with the organization, and something that became very apparent recently when Hurricane Sandy made landfall on the East Coast and became Superstorm Sandy, killing dozens of people, causing billions of dollars in damage and leaving millions – some still – without power.

But in the days immediately following Sandy, Legionnaires across the areas affected by the storm responded. Their first reaction was to take care of those in their own communities. That’s what Legionnaires do.

  • Sam Reeder, commander of Post 296 in Queensville, Md., read in the paper about a home destroyed by a fire due to Sandy. The home was being rented by a U.S. Army staff sergeant and his wife and two children; the sergeant was stationed outside of Maryland at the time of the fire, and his wife and children got out of the house with very few possessions. Reeder and his post immediately came up with $2,000 to help the family’s transition and get them set up in a hotel. Post 292’s Auxiliary unit gave another $1,000.
  • The first reaction of Legionnaires in Queens County, N.Y., was to check on their own. Using a phone tree, the leadership reached out to posts and Legionnaires within the community to find out who had been affected by the storm. MREs were distributed to people without power and food. Food and supplies were collected. One of the posts that had lost power due to Sandy, Broad Channel Post 1404 became a food distribution center for local residents. And the county established a relief fund to supplement what the Legion’s National Emergency Fund will provide for those posts and Legionnaires who were hit the hardest.
  • American Legion Post 94 in Babylon, N.Y., became a community center that provided a place for residents hit by the storm to stay warm and get a hot meal. The post stayed open until 8 p.m. and served three meals a day. It also served as a collection site for food and supplies, and members volunteered to help local residents begin to clean up their homes in the wake of flooding.

These are just a few examples of what I am sure are countless stories. Again, that’s what Legionnaires do. They step up and deliver when the situation seems bleak.

Even so, The American Legion is by no means finished with Sandy relief efforts. The requests already are coming in for NEF grants.

Legionnaires can receive up to $1,500, while posts can get up to $5,000. Since the establishment of the fund, the Legion has awarded more than $6 million to the victims of natural disasters across the country. There are more victims, and they’re going to need our help.

I would ask that if you can afford it, please donate to the fund. Every dollar goes directly to helping your fellow Legionnaires – not to administrative costs.

Believe me, those fellow Legionnaires will pay it forward. I know of posts and departments who have used NEF grants to get back on their feet and then turned around and made the NEF their primary fundraising focus going forward.

Any donation is money well spent. It is, as our Preamble states, carrying out "our devotion to mutual helpfulness." Other Legionnaires already have done their part to help. If you can, please do the same.