COVID-19 Has Upended The Business Model Of American Legion Posts, But Legionnaires Are Innovating

The assembly halls and lounges of American Legion posts throughout the nation function a group hub for veterans and their households. However throughout the pandemic, many have needed to shut their doorways to retired service members seeking to seize an affordable drink or hire out the corridor for an occasion.

That has meant a giant hit to some posts’ backside line.

On a latest Saturday evening, comic Scott Shimamoto thanked the viewers for popping out to a comedy evening within the parking zone of Monterey Park, California’s Submit 397.

The bodily distanced outside present got here full with a stage, emcee, DJ, and taco stand.

“I do know it has been tough for them as a result of they’re used to having a giant viewers right here and having their pals, veterans,” mentioned John Padilla, who helped arrange the occasion. He isn’t a veteran, however he is been coming to this submit since his buddy, a Vietnam Vet, first invited him.

“Their every day life, their routine, has been disrupted,” Padilla mentioned.

Gabriel Suarez has been commander of this submit for the previous decade. It is received about 70 members now.

Pre-pandemic, Suarez mentioned this submit would host events virtually each weekend. It is the form of place veterans may seize a drink, get pleasure from a meal, and swap tales over a sport of billiards.

It has been exhausting not having group gatherings as typically as they used to. Suarez motions to a water function that has gone dry.

“Each veteran would sit proper there and simply hearken to the babbling of the water till they fell asleep, and most of them did with a cigar of their hand,” Suarez mentioned. “It is simply these little issues, we offer a house surroundings.”

The festivities have been all about camaraderie. However they have been additionally about holding the lights on.

Robert Garrova/American Homefront
American Legion Submit 397 in Monterey Park, Cal. is making an attempt to proceed its charity work regardless of a drop in income throughout the pandemic.

The comedy evening was billed as a fundraiser, with the cash serving to the submit compensate for the hit it is taken for the reason that pandemic froze bar gross sales, corridor leases, and different sources of revenue.

“There is a huge necessity for fundraising for our constructing,” Suarez mentioned. “We have to maintain our constructing open so we’re capable of do the meals banks, so we’re capable of invite our comics out tonight.

And Submit 397 is just not alone in its want to lift cash.

“We’ve about 423 posts in California, and I am pretty sure … {that a} good 20 p.c of them are at risk of financially having to shut their doorways as a result of losses that they’ve incurred as a consequence of this pandemic,” mentioned Paul Brown, Adjutant for the American Legion Division of California.

Brown mentioned what native posts in California are feeling might be not too completely different from the restaurant business, particularly as they really feel the whiplash from state reopening steering which has modified during the last a number of months.

“They’re making an attempt to adapt, they’re making an attempt to change, they’re making an attempt to beat the state of affairs, survive it,” Brown mentioned.

It is exhausting to get a way of simply how a lot the pandemic has affected the greater than 12,000 posts throughout the nation. However in October, The American Legion Nationwide Govt Committee introduced the Mission Blue Submit Help Program. Eligible posts can apply for $1,000 grants which “have to be used completely to pay present or late hire, mortgage, utilities, and insurance coverage.”

“We’re positively involved about it,” mentioned Jeff Stoffer, director of media and communications on the Legion’s headquarters in Indiana.

“Quite a lot of posts have simply principally transformed what they have been doing in direction of completely different functions,” Stoffer added.

That is meant comedy nights or perhaps a drive-in movie show at a submit in Hollywood.

“As a result of we have needed to be revolutionary, we have had to determine the right way to modernize quite a lot of American Legions,” mentioned Michael Hjelmstad, vice commander of Hollywood’s Submit 43.”The American Legion, traditionally, is just not actual quick to take to vary and new expertise and issues like that, so this has form of compelled us to essentially step up in ways in which would have taken us so much longer.”

And that, Hjelmstad mentioned, could also be one silver lining on the cloud of this pandemic.

This story was produced by the American Homefront Challenge, a public media collaboration that stories on American navy life and veterans. Funding comes from the Company for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2020 North Carolina Public Radio – WUNC. To see extra, go to North Carolina Public Radio – WUNC.

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