November 29, 2016
No one should go hungry on Thanksgiving — if a family can’t avoid a holiday meal, volunteers will not only fund but also handpick and delivery everything needed for a proper family feast.
That’s the annual tradition of the George R. Wolff VFW Post #425 in Hopkins, a tradition that has been around for longer than anyone can remember. “It’s been at least 51 years,” said Jane Perry, president of the Post #425 Auxiliary. “And there’s some people who have been involved in it for all that time.”
The Hopkins VFW has provided holiday cheer and meals for those in need for at least 51 years. Dick Dvorak, a World War II veteran, along with his wife Pat, have volunteered since the event began. Although exact date of the event’s origin is unclear, Perry said it came out of a desire to keep everyone in the community fed and cared for during the holidays. “We felt there was a real need to give families who didn’t have anything a nice dinner,” Perry said.
This Thanksgiving, 20 local families in need received all the ingredients for a full holiday feast, courtesy of the VFW members who raised the funds, shopped and delivered the baskets. The care packages included fruit, veggies, baking supplies and a gift card to purchase a turkey.
“It’s everything you need for a nice Thanksgiving meal,” said Bob Manders, commander of Post #425.
The ICA Foodshelf provides the names of those who could use the support; the club prioritizes veterans and their families. “One shopper said she was told by an emotional recipient that if we didn’t buy the groceries, her family wouldn’t have a Thanksgiving,” said Betty Black. “They’re so appreciative.”
The total, of about $1,700 spent on the care baskets, was raised through the VFW’s annual turkey and ham spin event, as well as from the proceeds of the club’s charitable gambling activities such as pull tabs. The Minnetonka Cub Foods also donated some of the grocery items. More than 40 volunteers helped with the shopping and delivery of the Thanksgiving baskets, which Perry said is an annual tradition among the club’s members. “Volunteering is just part of their holiday tradition,” she said. “We never have a hard time find volunteers because so many people want to help.”
Participants come from all over the west metro area, she added, including parts of Minnetonka, St. Louis Park and other neighboring cities. “The post service area covers more than just Hopkins,” Perry said. It also offers more than just meals to veterans in need, but also supports community members with cash donations and other assistance. The post receives multiple letters a day from people requesting help, either financially or through services such as an honor guard for funerals. “We do it at the drop of a hat,” Perry said, once the need has been determined.
Mark Peterson said that while the club is active throughout the community in a variety of ways, veteran support and feeding the hungry are special priority for the VFW. “Helping veterans and ending hunger are things we specifically try to address,” he said “I don’t think there’s anything worse than being hungry and not having the means to buy food … just because someone lives in the suburbs doesn’t mean they’re exempt from needing help.” Tommy Johnson, who works with homeless veterans, said the two goals go hand in hand.
“When I was on active duty, I missed more than a few meals and there’s nothing worse than being hungry,” Johnson said. “The old saying is that an army marches on its stomach.”
Although Thanksgiving has come and gone, the gift-giving season is far from over for VFW Post #425, as preparations are already underway for a similar donation of Christmas meals to those in need. Throughout the holiday season and beyond, Manders added, the VFW will continue to raise funds and build community for veterans and their friends and family.
“It’s a fraternal organization, but it’s also a place for people to gather for community. We’re open to the public and we welcome people to come in as our guests,” Manders said. “We’re especially trying to get into the 21st century and attract younger members.”
Perry said this time of year is especially important to the VFW, as it highlights just how much work members do within the community. “We want people to know that we’re not just a bar, we’re a service organization,” Perry said. “It’s a great feeling when we’re able to help people who need it.”