By Michael BRUER
The holiday season can be a trying one for family and friends. It is an especially difficult time for the families of veterans, particularly those families that are missing a loved one who is serving in the armed services overseas. Their absence during the holidays is more pronounced, and can become a cause of stress for the family. That is when the American Legion can step in to offer help.
As the nation’s largest veterans’ organization, the American Legion is characterized by two separate mission strategies: one at the state/federal level, and one at the community level. As a national organization, it works diligently to enact legislation and lobby for veterans’ affairs. At the community level, it focuses on veterans’ assistance and youth.
Community support is nothing new for the organization. The American Legion supports the Boy Scouts’ food drive every November and the sheriff’s Christmas food drive in December. In mid-December, they hold an annual Christmas dinner at the Verdugo Hills post. But this year marks the first that the American Legion has collected food for a family in need.
The new service project, enacted by the American Legion post of Verdugo Hills, is one that seeks to improve and support the community. The organization first sought out the family of a veteran that was in need. Organizers contacted several local churches and schools before finding one. They then encouraged their members to bring in canned and packaged food to support the family. The results were encouraging, to say the least, as they managed to collect enough food for two families. Half of their collection was then donated to the sheriff’s Christmas food drive, and the other half to the family originally identified.
Since the passing of commander Ken Jury this past summer, the group elected Lynn McGinnis to the post. The retired history teacher and active Legion member is encouraged by the assortment of food collected this year.
“We will build upon this and our goal next year will be to find more families and hopefully bring in enough donations to support three or four families in need,” said McGinnis. “The community really came together in the past few years with the war memorial at Two Strike Park and this is a sort of response to that.”
Membership in the Verdugo Hills post of the American Legion is up in the past year, with meetings consistently exceeding 20 in attendance. The amount of food collected for the holiday distribution by the Legion can be partially attributed to the increase in membership, a fact not lost on McGinnis.
“We thought that we needed to be more proactive in the community with veterans who could use some assistance. We understand more than anyone what their commitment and sacrifice means to this country,” said McGinnis. “We are looking to beef up our current level of support to the community. Our post has really blossomed and provided tremendous support to create the memorial at Two Strike Park. The national average of active local members of the American Legion is at 10%, and we intend to double that number and do more for our community.”
The American Legion Verdugo Hills post is located at 4011 La Crescenta Ave. La Crescenta and is spearheaded by adjutant Mike Baldwin.