Arizona Riders chapter donates $40,000 to Fisher House

Arizona Riders chapter donates $40,000 to Fisher House

In 2017, Merrell-Mitchell American Legion Riders Chapter 39 in Gilbert, Ariz., teamed up with the CHAMP Foundation to fundraise for the Tucson Fisher House, which provides free accommodations to the families of servicemembers and veterans receiving care at military and Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities throughout the world.

Each year, the fundraising effort result in between $6,000 and $9,000 for the Fisher House. But when Sons of The American Legion Squadron 39 member Steve Coffman was elected the Riders director two years ago, he wanted to raise more.

Coffman, a member of Squadron 39’s Executive Committee, tasked Chapter 39 Ride Captain David “B” Bernheim with coming up with a new fundraising angle. Bernheim and his wife, Mary, did just that, and the results have made Coffman’s wish come true.

Thanks to Bernheim’s “In Their Boots” project, around $70,000 has been raised over the past two years by Chapter 39 and members of the post’s American Legion Family.

“In Their Boots” is a two-part event that starts with Chapter 39 visiting local nursing homes and assisted living facilities to visit with the veterans living there. Chapter members meet with the veterans in the morning, thanking them for their service. In the afternoon comes the walk, in which members of the chapter – many in combat boots – walk a mile around downtown Gilbert, raising funds – and awareness for the Fisher House – along the way.

The result a year ago was $30,000 raised, so Coffman set a goal for this year of at least matching the 2023 total. But when all was said and done, members of what Post 39 calls its Legion Family – the Riders, post, Auxiliary, Sons of The American Legion, Semper Fi Committee and color guard – had raised between $38,000 and $39,000. That’s when Coffman said Past Post Commander Chris Ellis stepped up to say he’d donate the difference to make the donation total an even $40,000.

“That blew my socks off, totally blew my socks off,” Coffman said. “I’m beyond honored. I’m so humbled to be a part of this.”

Coffman said the Riders chose Fisher House because they wanted their fundraising efforts to stay local; working with the CHAMP Foundation, a nonprofit organization created for the collection of donated monetary funds from the public to be used for an identified cause that supports veterans and their families.

“We’ve had many members who’ve had the opportunity to stay at the Fisher House. For us, it’s a local organization that needs support,” Coffman said. “We said, ‘If we’re going to raise money, we’re going to focus on those donations staying here in Arizona to benefit our active duty, our veterans and their families. The Fisher House was an ideal combination for us, working with the CHAMP Foundation, so that we know exactly where that money is going and that it can be accounted for. Everything that we do for our veterans and our active-duty and their families stays right here in Arizona.”

To deliver the donation, each year the Riders contingent from Chapter 39 makes the three-day ride to Tucson, making stops at American Legion posts along the way. This year, the approximately 60 Riders included a stop at Cochise Stronghold Post 141 in Pierce, where the Riders chapter donated $1,000. Other stops included Swift-Murphy Post 32 in Safford and at Post 24 in Tombstone before wrapping up at Post 36 in Tucson on April 14. Post 36 provided a lunch and then an escort to the Fisher House. Post 36 also donated $2,000 in gift cards to the Fisher House.

And while the Chapter 39 Riders were still at Post 36, Riders from Post 27 in Apache Junction donated $1,000 to the cause.

Coffman expects the chapter’s effort to continue to grow – and hopes to see it expand outward.

“This thing, this event, this idea, is gathering momentum,” he said. “During the state Riders meeting a few weeks ago, I issued a challenge to all chapters in Arizona to adopt what we’re doing here at 39. Let’s not make this a 39 event. Let’s make this a state event.

“And I would hope that other chapters across the country, not just Arizona, take up this endeavor and support their local Fisher Houses. In today’s world, they need as much money as they can get.”