Veterans groups organize events to help families in need during the holiday season

Sunday, November 11, 2012
American Legion Riders Chapter 63 had a Stuff-a-Truck event Nov. 3 to benefit the Southeast Missouri Food Bank and Jackson Ministerial Alliance. Ride captain Andy James, left, and assistant director Matt Dodd were at Schnucks and another truck was set up at Country Mart in Jackson. (Fred Lynch)

Today is Veterans Day. Events will be held to honor those who served in the armed forces, but many veterans continue to give to their communities outside of their military service. This generosity is particularly evident during the holiday season.

The American Legion Riders formed about four years ago. The group, made up of veterans and active duty military personnel, supports veterans groups in the Cape Girardeau and Jackson communities.

One of their recent efforts was a Stuff-a-Truck event held Nov. 3. at Schnucks in Cape Girardeau and Country Mart in Jackson.

According to Matthew Dodd, a member of the American Legion Riders Chapter 63, the group decided to hold the event about three weeks ago.

"This is our first attempt at Stuff-a-Truck," Dodd said. "Hopefully we can do this as an annual event."

The American Legion Riders also raise money for Camp Hope, a retreat for wounded soldiers in Farmington, Mo. Last year, according to Dodd, they raised money for the camp by bagging groceries at Country Mart in Jackson and raffling tickets at the SEMO District Fair.

Paul Mingus, a member of the American Legion Riders, said the group's first Stuff-a-Truck event was a success. In Cape Girardeau, $75 was collected along with 630 pounds of nonperishable food. These donations were delivered to the SEMO Food Bank. In Jackson, about $87 and more than 800 pounds of nonperishable food was collected. This was given to the Jackson Ministerial Alliance.

Toys for Tots also kicked off its annual campaign recently. The toy collection drive is sponsored locally by the Corporal Mason O. Yarbrough Detachment 1081 of the Marine Corps League. This is the ninth consecutive year for the local Marine Corps League to participate.

Toys for Tots coordinator, Sgt. Richard Bollwerk, said the Marine Corps Reserve is the organization that runs Toys for Tots on a national level. He said at the end of the campaign, the Marine Corps League reports how many toys were collected and how many families were served.

The Marine Corps League will run Toys for Tots in Bollinger, Cape Girardeau, Scott and Stoddard counties, Bollwerk said. The city of Cape Girardeau is not included in this since the Cape Jaycees serve this area through Toybox, a similar toy collection drive. Bollwerk added, however, that his group does help some in the city limits with toy donations through various organizations. Several area businesses have drop boxes for toy donations.

Bollwerk said that in addition to Toys for Tots, the Marine Corps League helps veterans find employment and they volunteer at the Veterans Home.

"We volunteer at the Veterans Home, and we support some of their programs either financially or by volunteer help. At Christmas, we try to do some special things with the veterans out there," Bollwerk said. "Just this past weekend, we had a campaign, called Marine Rose Campaign, where we ask for donations to help wounded soldiers that are coming back from Afghanistan. Locally, if there are marine veterans having trouble finding a job, we try to help them out."

Bollwerk said he is optimistic there will be a good turnout this year with Toys for Tots based on last year's success.

"In the nine years of doing this, we always have a great response from the community. There continues to be a great need to help the underprivileged kids," he said. "The totals last year were 7,000 toys. We distributed those toys to about 1,600 children last year in those same four counties."

One opportunity to donate to Toys for Tots is at the Parade of Lights on Nov. 25, which is sponsored by Old Town Cape. The Marine Corps League's entry in the parade will be a large military truck.

"We are going to ask people to bring a toy with them to the parade," Bollwerk said. "The theme of the parade is ‘All I Want for Christmas,' and on the side of our truck it will read, ‘All I want for Christmas is a truck full of toys.'"

Toys for Tots continues through Dec. 15.

For more information or to find drop-off locations, go to toysfortots.org.

Assistant managing editor Lucas Presson contributed to this story.

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