Over the past 32 years, the Department of Idaho American Legion Family has provided three state veterans homes with nearly $1.5 million in food and monetary donations. The longstanding tradition started in 1982 when then department commander Frank Dalton declared the “Veterans Food Convoy” his commander’s project, donating $8,000 in food in its first year to the Idaho State Veterans Home in Boise.
The success of the food convoy grew to include two more Idaho state veterans homes in Lewiston and Pocatello where a convoy of trucks and cars filled with canned, boxed and frozen food parades to the homes every year after Veterans Day.
“This has been a Legion Family event since its first year, and it’s a tradition that’s looked forward to,” said Idaho Department Commander Michael Thurlow, who has been involved with the convoy for the past 18 years. “We are very proud of this event; this is how we in Idaho choose to take care of our veterans.”
Thurlow added that at 73 years old, Frank Dalton still attends every Boise food convoy in the rain or snow. “He lines all those vehicles up; he is like the conductor of the orchestra," Thurlow said. "That is special.”
Planning for the food convoy begins after the Department of Idaho’s convention in July. Posts are tasked with working with food distributors in their area, as well as promoting the food convoy through radio and newspaper announcements, telling local residents where to drop food or monetary donations off. Schools, farms and businesses also support the food convoy by donating and collecting food.
For example, Wada Farms and Liberty Gold Potatoe Co., provide potatoes year-round for the three state veterans home – 9,000 pounds of potatoes was delivered to the Boise veterans home during the food convoy. And D.L. Evans Bank, which has branches in 12 Idaho cities, puts food donation boxes at all of their locations. Additionally, several elementary and middle schools in Pocatello donated 2,011 cans of food for the convoy by hosting a food drive on Veterans Day.
Between the three Idaho state veterans homes, the food convoy delivered $63,000 in food and cash donations in early November to feed the 280 veterans living in the homes.
“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,” said Josiah Dahlstrom, administrator for the Idaho State Veterans Home in Pocatello. “We will definitely take advantage of the kindness and generosity of others and let that roll into our veterans so they can feel the love this holiday season.”
When Lynne Jones, food service operations manager for the Pocatello veterans home, reaches for a can of food from the pantry, she will oftentimes find small handprints cut out of construction paper. The schools that participate in the food drive tape students’ handprints to the cans and write messages on them, such as “Thank you for keeping me safe.”
“When you walk into the front doors you are so humbled because this isn’t just another place, this is where are veterans are so we try to make sure that their meals are outstanding,” Jones said. “The American Legion food convoy is an answer to prayers. America’s finest are here, and it’s our privilege to take care of them and with the Legion’s help, we can make sure that they are fed well.”
Jones said one veteran she was taking care of was so ill that the only thing he could eat was bean and bacon soup. “And the food convoy came up and they had bean and bacon soup,” she said. “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 help the veterans’ homes budget by allowing the staff to provide special meals and ensuring that the veterans enjoy activities away from the facility. The three Idaho veterans home will serve prime rib on Veterans Day and take the veterans to local fairs and on 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 Idaho State Veterans Home in Boise and a member of Post 151 at the veterans home. “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.”
Currently, Idaho is the only department to conduct a veterans food convoy, but Legion Family members from Idaho hope the idea of feeding veterans will spread into other departments.
“When you come to the food convoy and see the camaraderie, it’s the Legion Family at work,” said Ron Adams, past department commander of Idaho. “It’s veterans helping veterans.”