During one of its regular meetings, members of American Legion Riders Chapter 55 in Hannibal, Mo., were having discussion about the chapter’s activities. That led Chapter Road Captain Steve “Gumbie” Gumble to bring up something.
“We do the flag (lines), we do the parades, we do the escorts,” Gumble said he told his fellow Riders, before asking, “’But what are we really doing?’”
That prompted the chapter to do something to make a stronger impact on its community. Through its “Hats and Gloves with Love” program, the chapter set out to provide hats and gloves to pre-k through Grade 5 students in the Hannibal Public School District.
Gumble said the chapter started by reaching out to the school district to find out how many elementary school students were receiving either reduced or free lunches. They found that in a few schools, more than 90 percent of the students were on such a lunch program; no school was below 50 percent.
“We thought that was absolutely crazy,” Gumble said. “We can’t do a whole lot here. We can’t feed them. But we can try to get them warm.”
Chapter 55 then began looking at how it could distribute the hats. “We started off saying, ‘Why don’t we get enough for just the kids that really need it,’” Gumble said. “But then we thought that in a school where 90 percent of the kids are in need, how were we going to give out hats to kids and leave out one or two kids in each classroom? So, let’s just give them to everybody. If they don’t need one or take one, then maybe the teacher knows of a little brother or sister that can use one that’s not in school.
Fundraising for the effort included a poker run, as well as Gumble participating in an Iron Butt Challenge, riding 1,000 miles in 24 hours. “Other than that, we had people coming up to me saying, ‘Hey Gumbie, buy some hats,” Gumble said. “It was crazy.”
Other brand-new hats were donated to the chapter to provide the students. Gumble said one local print business provided hats with other school logos imprinted on them. Those were donated to a local outreach ministry that provides services to the homeless and others in need.
By the end of the collection effort, just over 1,700 hats and another 500 pairs of gloves and mittens had been obtained to be distributed within the school district. Members of Chapter 55 delivered some in person recently, giving the Riders a chance to interact with the students.
“That was a blast,” Gumble said. “We went in there, and it was fun. It was like a little party. The kids had fun. It was amazing. I wish I had started doing this stuff 20 years ago.”
On its Facebook page, the Hannibal Public School District wrote “A heartfelt thank you to the American Legion Riders for generously supplying hats and gloves to all HPS students from PreK to 5th grade for added warmth this winter!! We also honor and appreciate your service to our country. THANK YOU.”
Gumble said the effort made it feel like Chapter 55 really made a difference in its community. “I’ve been a Rider for about three or four years,” he said. “We do the parade. Great. We do the funeral escort … because we’re Riders and it shows our support for the family. But what are we really doing that makes a difference?
“When I met with the superintendent, I said our goal wasn’t to set the world on fire. Our goal was to keep them warm. One kid warmer today. One kid warmer tomorrow. And we just happened to be able to do 1,700.”