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Veterans groups dig deep to maintain holiday generosity

| Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013, 8:17 p.m.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
VFW Post 8430 commander Doug Flora (center) poses for a photo with United States Marine Sgt. Eric Thompson (left) and Cpl. Tom Medovich (right) while the two Marines visit the post to pick up a toy donation on Friday December 20, 2013.

Like many veterans' service organizations, the East McKeesport post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars has fewer members these days, but no one would know that from the bags of toys that Ray Lang loaded this week to take to a church in Bloomfield.

Many local VFW and American Legion posts' members are reaching deep and working hard during the holidays to maintain their traditions of charity, despite membership numbers that are declining nationwide.

“Everybody's so generous in this club,” said Gloria Brodie, manager and senior vice president of the East McKeesport post's Ladies Auxiliary. “We have all kinds of fundraisers, Ray does all the cooking, and he does a lot of running. He's made I don't know how many trips today for Toys for Tots.”

The East McKeesport post has collected about $4,000 worth of toys and clothes for an “Angel Tree,” where members fulfill a needy child's Christmas list that they pick off a Christmas tree.

Breakfast fundraisers, a gift-basket raffle and sales of homemade soup brought in $3,000, which the members used to buy toys for the annual Toys for Tots campaign run by the Marines and Marine Reserves. Marines came to pick the toys up on Friday and were treated to dinner.

“It's amazing,” Lang said. “Every year, we seem to get more donations.”

In Allegheny County, the VFW had as many as 15,000 life members in 1971, but that number since has declined to about 3,700, according to Henry Manella, quartermaster at the Brentwood post, which has shrunk from 1,100 members a few years ago to 700.

Linda McKenzie, local coordinator for the Toys for Tots campaign in Beaver County, said she communicates with individual VFW and American Legion posts that collect toys or money, but none this year are volunteering labor to help gather and distribute the donations.

Stan Schubert, commandant of the Bantam Marine League Detachment in Butler County, said his region's Toys for Tots campaign drew about 300 volunteers from veterans groups and their families, when the group distributed toys Dec. 13 to about 1,300 children from Butler, Clarion and Venango counties.

“We haven't seen any decline at all,” said Schubert, lauding Butler County veterans for their community service.

But not all posts have been able to keep up. Edward Nock, commander of the American Legion's 36th District, said his post in Dormont had only 20 members, most of whom were World War II veterans too old to be as active in volunteer activities as larger posts with younger members such as the 700-member Bethel Park post.

Tom Stachura, adjutant at the American Legion's post in Baden, said the post used to collect toys for charity at Christmas, but hasn't for years because of a change in management and a 30 percent decline in membership.

“You've got to have the help to do it,” he said. “It's a matter of having the individuals in the organization to start things up; you have to have a driving force.”

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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