When the coronavirus pandemic broke out and stay-at-home orders started becoming the norm, Wausau, Wis., restaurant Bunkers at Tribute Golf Course wanted to start providing free meals to area veterans to keep those veterans from having to venture out during a very dangerous time.
With the facilities in place to put together the meals, the restaurant was looking for someone to team up with to deliver the meals and raise funds for the project. That’s when Montgomery-Plant-Dudley Post 10 in Wausau became involved.
The collaboration has been a success. Since starting the effort last spring, 2,000 meals have been delivered to area veterans, providing both nourishing meals and peace of mind for the recipients who could receive the food from the safety of their residence.
And whether it’s been donating funds or time to the effort, the community has become a part of the collaboration.
“People see you doing good things, and they respond in different ways,” Post 10 Vice Commander Bob Weller said. “I’ll be (post) commander in July, and something I really want to really focus on … is to do things that are good and publicize it. And then, better things will happen on top of it.”
When Bunkers started the effort late last winter it provided the first $1,000 but was looking for fundraising assistance. Post 10 provided it. “Within about a month’s time we had $30,000 in donations,” Weller said. “The community really came forward. So every week for 11 straight weeks we delivered 100 meals.”
With COVID-19 numbers starting to drop but anticipating another spike later in 2020, the post and Bunkers put the meal delivery on hold to hang onto funds for down the road.
“And sure enough, that’s what happened in Wisconsin,” Weller said. “We got hit viciously with a second spike. So we then started looking at Thanksgiving and Christmas because of homebound (veterans), the temperatures outside and everything else.”
Over the holidays Post 10 and Bunkers provided four large meals on both Thanksgiving and Christmas to every veterans home that had been a part of the previous distribution efforts. Around another 800 meals were distributed around the same time, which was followed by a 200-effort on Valentine’s Day 2021 that included desserts, Valentines and a note from the post reminding the veterans Post 10 is there to support them. And 200-meal distributions are planned monthly from March through June.
Weller praised Post 10 members Tony Nardi, Ron Covelli and Mike Heilmann for spearheading the effort on behalf of the post, which includes logistics, raising awareness about the effort and organizing volunteers to help assemble the meals, reaching out to the veterans to arrange delivery and provide delivery services. Around 25 drivers are used during each distribution effort; most have been with the effort since the first meal was delivered.
“They’re sticking with us, and over half of them aren’t veterans,” Weller said. “They’re simply people interested in community … and helping veterans.”
Weller said Heilmann has led the effort to publicize the effort, which has proved effective. “Through his work, two different foundations saw our work on Thanksgiving,” he said. “And when they saw our work at Christmastime as well, they contacted me. The first foundation, within three days after my (media) interview, sent us a $10,000 check. The next foundation that contacted me within five days after that … we had another $10,000. Good work like this often spurs others to do something good.”
As we continue through 2021, we will continue to share the stories of American Legion Family members rising up during COVID-19. The following are a few of those examples.
In Bristol, Seicheprey Post 2 was the site of a COVID-19 vaccine registration event Feb. 12 for area residents ages 65 and over. Staff from Bristol Health and Post 2 American Legion Family members assisted those residents with registering for the vaccine they’ll receive in the coming weeks.
In Derby, American Legion Post 408 is teaming up with the Derby Chamber of Commerce for a drive-thru pancake feed and canned food drive to benefit the Derby Community Family Services food bank.
• On Feb. 20, American Legion Post 265 in Jacksonville is hosting a COVID-19 vaccination day conducted by StarMed Healthcare. The effort is taking place from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and is open to healthcare workers and those 65 years and older.
• In Edenton, Am Edward G. Bond Post 40 served as a Feb. 16 site for Albemarle Regional Health Services COVID-19 vaccine clinic. The clinic was for people who received their first dose of the Moderna vaccine on or before Jan. 22.