Veterans honored with meal at Carnegie banquet hall
Homeless and struggling veterans piled their plates with a hot meal from Cefalo’s Banquet and Event Center in Carnegie on Wednesday.
Thanks to the Elks Carnegie Lodge No. 831, Allegheny Lodge No. 339 and American Legion Post No. 82, they left with new socks, gloves, hoodies, hats and flannel shirts to keep them warm this winter.
But for many of the veterans, it was the recognition and thanks they were receiving for their time spent serving their country that meant the most to them.
“It means a great deal to me, especially people acknowledging my service,” said Richard Andrews III, 56, who is part of the Compensated Work Therapy/Transitional Residence program through the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System. “A lot of young people take the military for granted, and I believe that freedom’s not free. A lot of people died for that. I really like when people acknowledge it and they say, ‘Thank you for your service,’” said Andrews, who served in the Army from 1981 to 1989.
Over two days — on Sept. 24 and 25 — the event served about 80 veterans meals and gave them needed supplies, said Al Montuoro Jr., chairman of trustees for the Carnegie lodge.
“We want them to know that really, if it wasn’t for them — the men and ladies here tonight — that we wouldn’t be able to do what we’re doing, because we wouldn’t be in a free country,” he said. “We really appreciate what they did.”
The event was made possible through two grants received from the Elks National Foundation — The Freedom Grant and The Spotlight Grant — totaling $8,000. The two Elks organizations and the American Legion post members and friends contributed an additional $882.
Communication Workers of America donated sweatshirts and T-shirts to give out.
This is the second time the groups have held an event like this, Montuoro said.
“What we’re trying to accomplish is to give these people a hand-up, rather than a hand-out,” he said.
Sean Neely, exalted ruler of the Carnegie Elks, said he has close friends who are serving the country in the military.
“To see what they do and they go through and they’re away from their families, watching their kids grow up overseas. … Then when they come back here, and if they’re in a situation like this and you could do anything to help them at this point, why wouldn’t you?”
Len Cefalo, who owns the banquet hall with his wife, Kathy, and son, Dean, is a Vietnam veteran. He was happy to be a part.
“These people served our country like my dad and our fathers did,” he said. “We wouldn’t have the freedom that we have today, we couldn’t enjoy life as much, and we wouldn’t be the best country in the world if it weren’t for these veterans.”
Michael Gooden, 55, who is in the transitional housing program with the VA, said he’s proud to have served in the Army. Recognition like this shows him that people haven’t forgotten.
“It makes me feel good about what I’ve done,” he said.
Mark Overly, 53, who served as a paratrooper from 1984 to 1988, echoed those sentiments.
“It’s nice to feel appreciated for what we’ve gone through,” he said. “Most of all, it’s touching in your heart to see them come together and do this for us.”