The coronavirus hit Southern Michigan particularly hard this spring and summer, with Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties combining to make up 57 percent of the state’s 82,000 cases.
There’s also the fact around 340,000 unemployment claims coming from Michigan residents were flagged for fraud – resulting in 200,000 not receiving payments until recently and under 140,000 still under investigation. And combine that with the fact that some of the state’s COVID-19-related assistance programs and forbearance periods are nearing end dates, and it’s been difficult financially for hundreds of thousands of Michigan residents.
But the American Legion Department of Michigan has been trying to alleviate some of the stress for those veterans and others impacted by the pandemic. Since June, the department has been teaming up with Gleaners Community Food Bank to distribute more than 7,000 pounds of non-perishable food to veterans, seniors and families in need.
When Department of Michigan Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Committee Chairman Don Howard heard Gleaners was having trouble finding groups of people to help distribute the food, he didn’t hesitate to ask the food bank to consider The American Legion.
“We’re The American Legion. We have 400 posts throughout the state of Michigan,” said Howard, a member of Edward C. Headman Post 217 in Wyandotte. “We can help.”
Each distribution site had 500 40-pound food boxes to be distributed in a contactless manner. Volunteers loaded the boxes in the recipients’ vehicles while the recipients stayed in their car or truck.
Howard reached out to posts about hosting the efforts; the posts put their volunteer crews together and are then given a safety presentation by Howard prior to each event. Department of Michigan Adjutant Ron Runyan and Department Public Relations Director Mark Sutton also are on site to assist.
People on the receiving end of the food boxes are “extremely grateful. Extremely thankful,” Howard said. “We’ve had people say ‘We’re joining The American Legion.’ It’s veterans helping veterans.”
Howard said that the combination of the lack of unemployment benefits and the possible expiration of other relief programs created a “perfect storm” for the state’s residents. It’s created a need The American Legion wants to continue to meet and is seeking other like-minded groups and businesses with whom to collaborate on a statewide level.
“We have a great need for food,” Howard said. “We’re asking for partners, for donations. Anybody who wants to be involved with this, please contact me. We will distribute that food throughout the state of Michigan. I’m on my phone daily trying to get corporate sponsorship and other entities across the state to help us reach out to the rural areas and other metropolitan are to ensure that The American Legion can help … every veteran in the state that has a need. That’s what we do as The American Legion.”
Howard has asked that individuals and businesses wishing to collaborate with the department on future food relief efforts can either reach out to him at email@example.com or Department of Michigan Adjutant Ron Runyan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Colorado Post 11's Foresight Pays Off. Before the coronavirus pandemic really erupted, American Legion Post 11 in Trinidad put in for a grant from Colorado’s The Veterans Trust Fund. The grants were established in 2000 by the State General Assembly to address the needs of veterans in the state of Colorado; funding comes through Tobacco Master Settlement funds.
What the post and Post 11 Finance Officer William Phillips didn’t know at the time was that a financial need created through coronavirus-related shutdowns was going to sweep across the nation.
So the $27,000 grant awarded to Post 11 is coming at a much-needed time in history.
“Obviously the funds will be used in one way, shape or manner for veterans who are having problems based on COVID,” said Phillips, who serves as the Fort Wootton Memorial Square general manager and treasurer of the Las Animas County Veterans’ Council. “The whole justification behind the funding is to be able to help veterans in Colorado.”
Phillips said the post had never previously asked for a Veterans Trust Fund grant but decided to this year to assist veterans in need of either housing or other financial assistance.
“If they lost their job during the COVID environment or any situation where they can get support for their family, for food, for rent, utility bills … that’s kind of what it’s for,” Phillips said. “It’s there to help the vets. We, as The American Legion, decided that’s what we’re there for.”
More American Legion Family coronavirus support efforts from across the nation:
In Nickerson, a community parade that included Lysle Rishel Post 68 American Legion Riders honored the 100th birthday of World War II veteran John C. “Jack” Lamb. More than 100 vehicles – including members of the Reno County Sheriff’s Department, the Reno County Fire Department, the Masons and the Shriners – came together to show their appreciation for Lamb, who served in the U.S. Army Air Forces.
During the parade, Chapter 68 American Legion Riders stopped their motorcycles so road captain Robert Wiegan could present Lamb with a certificate of honor in appreciation for his years of military service. All of the Riders saluted Lamb in respect for his service.
American Legion Post 258 in Springfield will serve as a COVID-19 testing site for the Livingston Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (LOHSEP).
The testing will be available from 8-11 a.m. at Post 258, 26200 LA Highway 43, July 27-28. Testing is free for people ages 18 and older. A photo ID is required to get a test, but individuals do not have to be symptomatic to get tested.
After 67 years, Korean War medic Donald L. Roy finally received his replacement Bronze Star after his first one slipped out of the package in the mail. The new medal was presented by Rep. Chellie Pingree's office, but since Pingree was unable to attend, Kenison Hooper American Legion Post 128 Commander Bryan McManus presented the medal to Roy at the post in Standish.
Other Post 128 members also attended the ceremony, all wearing masks.
In Fairview Park, American Legion Post 738 organized a drive-by parade to honor the 100th birthday of Harriet Beekman. Parade participants – including American Legion Riders from Post 738 and Post 421 in Fairview Park – drove in front of Beekman’s home, honking their horns, cheering and waving.
Beekman has been a staunch supporter of veterans in the community, dating back to the Vietnam War. She founded the We Do Care Committee that shipped more than 12,000 care packages to soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen during the Vietnam War. The We Do Care committee, of which she still chairs, also has sent more than 1,000 boxes to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
To celebrate the 100th birthday of World War II Army veteran Donald Stutzman, about a dozen motorcycle riders from American Legion Riders Chapter 970 came to Stutzman’s residence at the Atrium – a personal care community in Johnstown – stood outside and saluted Stutzman as he watched through a window. The Riders also brought a cake and signed banner, along with gifts for the personal care community's other veterans.
“It made us all feel good to do something for a veteran after what he's done for us and our county,” Chapter 970 Legion Rider Red Loya told The Tribune-Democrat.
The following day, family, friends and members of the community came together to celebrate Stutzman, which included a vehicle parade by the Johnstown Fire Department and Johnstown Police Department, along with cake and singing. Stutzman fought in the Pacific Theater of Operations, including the Battle of Okinawa.
In Cookeville, members of Post 46’s American Legion Family made sure the state’s veterans aren’t forgotten. The Legion Family donated 12 rocking chairs to the Tennessee State Veterans Home in Murfreesboro; each chair is embossed across the back with all of the U.S. Armed Service emblems and will be escorted to the site by members of Post 46’s American Legion Riders.
After dropping off the chairs, Post 46’s Legion Family traveled to the Alvin C. York VA Medical Center to deliver 500 gift bags to veterans at the hospital and 1,000 pounds of snacks, food, clothing and toiletries to the veterans in the COVID-19 war.
American Legion Post 159 in Bryan took to local media to get the word out that they are available to financially assist local veterans during the pandemic. The post teams up with Brazos Valley Cares, American Legion Auxiliary Unit 159 and the Vietnam Veteran Association to assist with bills and rental assistance. Typically Post 159 donates about $20,000 every year but has only allocated $11,000 this year.
The post can assist with utility bills up to $500 and rent up to $1,000. “It’s what The American Legion was set up to do,” Post 159 Commander Tom Marty told KBTX News 3. “Even in these times with the coronavirus and the shelter in place and all of the different things we’re putting up with, it’s still important that we as veterans help our brother and sister veterans when they’re in need.”