Over three decades, the American Legion Family of Idaho has provided three state veterans homes with nearly $1.5 million in food and monetary donations.
The annual tradition began in 1982, when Frank Dalton announced that his project as department commander would be a veterans food convoy. That year, Legionnaires donated $8,000 in food to the Boise Veterans Home.
The project soon expanded to veterans homes in Lewiston and Pocatello, where trucks and cars filled with canned, boxed and frozen food make deliveries after Veterans Day.
“This has been a Legion Family event since its first year,” says Michael Thurlow, who has participated in the convoy since the 1990s. “We are very proud of it. This is how we in Idaho choose to take care of our veterans.”
Dalton attends every Boise convoy – rain, snow or shine. “He lines all those vehicles up, like the conductor of an orchestra,” Thurlow says.
Plans for each year’s convoy begin after the department’s convention in July. Posts work with local food distributors and promote the convoy through radio and newspaper announcements, telling residents where they can drop off food donations or make monetary contributions. Schools, farms and businesses assist, too, by collecting and donating food.
For example, Wada Farms and Liberty Gold Potato Co. provide potatoes year-round for the three state veterans homes. Nine thousand pounds of potatoes were delivered to the Boise Veterans Home during last year’s convoy. And D.L. Evans Bank, which has branches in 12 Idaho cities, puts food donation boxes at all its locations. Several elementary and middle schools in Pocatello also donated 2,011 cans of food by hosting a food drive on Veterans Day.
In November 2016, the food convoy delivered $63,000 in food and cash donations to feed the 280 veterans living at the three facilities.
“It’s awesome to see the support from the community, and it’s great for the veterans to see and feel that the service they provided to their country was not in vain,” says Josiah Dahlstrom, administrator for the Pocatello Veterans Home.
Lynne Jones, food service operations manager at Pocatello, says that when she reaches for cans in the pantry, she often finds small handprints cut out of construction paper attached. They include handwritten messages from schoolchildren, such as “Thank you for keeping me safe.”
“The American Legion food convoy is an answer to prayers,” Jones says. “America’s finest are here, and it’s our privilege to take care of them. With the Legion’s help, we can make sure they are fed well.”
One veteran for whom Jones was caring became so ill that all he could seem to eat was bean-and-bacon soup, she recalls.
“The food convoy came up and had bean-and-bacon soup,” she says. “When I served the soup to the veteran, he would touch my hand, a tear would fall, and he would say, ‘Thank you.’ The American Legion food convoy is making an impact on our veterans and their wants and needs.”
The food and monetary donations also benefit the veterans homes’ budgets by allowing the staff to provide special meals and helping veterans enjoy activities away from the facility. On Veterans Day, the three facilities served prime rib, and veterans have been treated to local fairs and fishing trips.
“It’s the most exciting and wonderful thing that The American Legion does this for us,” said Phil Hawkins, activities coordinator for the Boise Veterans Home and a member of Fort Boise Post 151. “Serving prime rib would never happen if it wasn’t for the food convoy. The food convoy allows us to take care of our veterans.”
Members of the Idaho American Legion Family say they hope the idea will spread to other departments.
“When you come to the food convoy and see the camaraderie, it’s the Legion Family at work,” says Ron Adams, a past department commander. “It’s veterans helping veterans.”