As Veterans Day approaches this November 11, Galveston organizations that support our soldiers would like to reintroduce their fundraising efforts to our readers.
Clubs like the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), and the American Legion are all dedicated to assisting servicemen and women in our community. They also do their fair share for Galveston’s special needs children.
They achieve these goals with weekly fundraising events and in turn are able to support various charities in the community.
There are approximately 23,000 veterans currently living in Galveston County, according to GC Veterans Services Officer Jeff Gottlob. “Out of the 254 counties in the State of Texas, Galveston ranks as the 17th most heavily populated with veterans,” Gottlob said.
This may be attributed to the fact that Galveston County is close to two Veterans Administration hospitals and within a 50-mile radius of Houston, where one of the largest VA medical centers is located in the nation, Gottlob said.
“Membership at the local VFW and American Legion halls and participation in their weekly fundraisers is absolutely crucial for their survival,” said Gottlob. “Please consider these local organizations when you are eating out. They need your assistance.”
Most fundraisers involve food, are open to the public as well as members, and are offered weekly and during special events.
Stephen Cochran has been Exalted Ruler of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, Lodge 126, for seven years. The national organization came into being in the 1860s and the Galveston lodge opened in 1889.
Their mission statement is to promote and practice the four cardinal virtues of charity, justice, brotherly love and fidelity, to promote the welfare and enhance the happiness of its members, and to quicken the spirit of American patriotism and cultivate good fellowship.
In a nutshell, Cochran describes the Elks as a volunteer organization that prides themselves in serving veterans and enhancing the lives of children with special needs.
“All kids deserve to have a camp experience,” Cochran said. “We offer one week to each qualified child with challenges and we take care of all of their needs. We provide food, housing, counselors, and activities. They get the whole experience, as it should be. If a parent must accompany a child, we will take care of their needs as well.”
In addition, the Elks organization uses grant money to rent a party boat every year. They take up to 70 veterans fishing and each participant gets a pole and a T-shirt, something Cochran says they may not be able to do on their own. They also use grant dollars to put together approximately 60 bags of clothing and toiletries for homeless veterans.
The Elks is a member-only organization with an annual fee of $144 and a one-time application fee of $100. However, Cochran says lodge members are at the door ready to sign in guests for the weekly food fundraisers.
“The public can come to any of our weekly fundraisers as a guest, and we have members who will sign them in. They are welcome to enjoy the lodge for the evening. It is our hope that some of them will want to become new members,” he said.
There are three requirements to become an Elk: You must believe in God; support the country and constitution; and have no felonies of record. The calendar year for Elk membership runs from April 1 to March 31.
ASSISTANCE FOR VETERANS
The Elks, VFW, and American Legion all offer camaraderie, companionship, and solace to veterans. They also offer free meals to veterans on Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Christmas and other specials days of the year. In addition, they can assist veterans in securing benefits and sometimes housing or home furnishings.
Whether it’s a hot meal, toiletries, or a sympathetic shoulder and experienced ear, all of these organizations have volunteers that can assist in these endeavors.
“Sometimes you need to speak to someone else who’s lived through the same hardships and circumstances,” Dean Growcock, Commander of Galveston’s Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) said. “And sometimes a veteran does not have any family, so they become a part of our family.”
Growcock, a Navy veteran, has been commander of the local VFW Post 880 for the last five years. It is the sixth oldest post in Texas, having been chartered in 1927. Their number one mission is to serve and assist local veterans in any way possible.
“Did you know there are 22 suicides a day because of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? These folks need other people to talk to who have also been to war. We offer them a place where other veterans are dealing with the same issues successfully,” Growcock said.
This hard-working volunteer organization distributes thousands of dollars in scholarships every year and funds the Christmas and summer programs for patients at the Shriners Hospital for Children in Galveston.
In addition, they supply 125 free meals to the public on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. They also work in conjunction with the American Legion and Elks Lodge in supplying free meals for veterans during other holidays.
The annual fee for membership in the VFW is $45. Lifetime memberships are available on a sliding scale, according to age. Lifetime members do not pay any other post dues.
To be eligible for membership, you must have served within any branch of the United States military in an active, foreign war zone. Membership is not required, however, to enjoy any of the weekly fundraisers.
“Sadly, many of our veterans are homeless,” said the Commander of American Legion Post 20 Johnny Enriquez. “And many are not skilled in obtaining the medical benefits they have earned. One of our main goals is to assist veterans in securing those benefits.”
They also assist with housing and home furnishings on an individual basis. In addition, they work in conjunction with the other veterans’ organizations in providing meals on holidays.
Among the recipients of their fundraising efforts is the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) at Ball High School, where they have given out $20,000 in scholarships. They will also pay lodging, food, and mileage expenses for any veteran who would like to attend the American Legion district or state conferences in Sealy and Austin, Texas, respectively.
Although the national American Legion organization is one of the largest and oldest veterans’ assistance groups in the country, the Galveston post was closed for three years before Enriquez took over nearly six years ago.
Their membership is flourishing and now has more than 75 members. An annual membership is $36. There are no special requirements for membership other than having served in any branch of the U.S. military.
“We are all brothers and sisters and we welcome all y’all to come in and visit,” Enriquez said.
If you are a veteran and in need of assistance in securing benefits, please call Galveston County Veterans Services at 409.766.2448 or visit www.galvestoncountytx.gov and click on Veterans Services.
This year the Galveston VFW, Elks, and American Legion are working together to provide a free meal for all servicemen and women on Veterans Day, Saturday, November 11, at the VFW hall, beginning at 6pm.
DEALS AND STEALS
The BPO of Elks Lodge
The Elks Lodge is located at 1518 23rd Street in Galveston. A full, cash bar is open for service during evening meals which are served from 5:30pm to 7:30pm. Members are available at the door to sign in non-members.
On the first and third Wednesdays of the month, a ribeye steak, baked potato, and salad dinner is served for $19 per person. A grilled chicken option is offered for $14.
On the second Wednesday of the month, a Mexican meal (which varies but may consist of enchiladas, tamales, rice, and beans) is sold for $14 per person. The meals are donated to the lodge by Rosa Martinez, owner of El Nopalito.
On the fourth Wednesday of the month, a chicken fried chicken or chicken fried steak dinner, your choice, is served for $14. The meal includes mashed potatoes, green beans, and a salad.
On Friday evenings, burgers and hoagies with baskets of fries are available for $10 each. They also play bingo for prizes, which have been donated to the lodge.
A free monthly breakfast is offered to veterans and their families on the third Saturday of the month from 9am to 11am. Non veterans will be charged $5.
For more information call 409.762.1212, visit www.elks.org, or email Elkslodge126@gmail.com.
The Galveston VFW
VFW Post 880 is located at the corner of 24th Street and Avenue K in Galveston. When entering use the entrance on Avenue K.
The VFW canteen is a full-service bar serving beer, wine, and liquor. You need not be a member to purchase meals and attend any of their nightly fundraisers.
The VFW has a full schedule. There is a special happy hour Monday through Saturday from 2pm to 6pm when guests will get $.50 off all beer and well drinks. The VFW Hall is closed on Sundays.
Every Monday and Thursday, a poker tournament is held and bar food including hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, or pizzas are available for sale. There is a $50 buy in for the tournament of Texas Hold ‘Em. Play begins at 6:30pm.
Tuesday night is burger night from 5:30pm to 7:30pm. One-third pound hamburgers are available for $4.50 and cheeseburgers for $5. Chicken breast sandwiches are available for $5. Regular hot dogs cost $2 and jumbo hot dogs cost $3. Add a basket of French fries for $2 to any order. Buy a Queen of Hearts game and get a free bingo card. Bingo is played for free drinks until 7:30pm, when the drawing for QOH is made.
On the last Wednesday of the month, listen to music from a local D.J. and enjoy camaraderie from 6pm to 9pm.
Friday is steak night. Sixteen-ounce ribeye, T-bone, or New York strip steaks are seasoned and grilled to order. Sauteed onions and mushrooms are available for no extra charge. Dinner includes a salad, loaded baked potato, and dessert for $18.50. Blackened salmon, cooked in a special cast iron pan, is available for $17.50.
For more information, call the office at 409.763.2257 and someone will return your call, or call the bar at 409.763.9866 any time Monday through Saturday from 2pm to 10pm. To check daily specials, visit Galveston VFW on Facebook or their website at www.vfwgalveston.org.
The American Legion
The American Legion Post 20 is located at 1503 23rd Street. Their lounge is open to the public, daily from noon to midnight. Beer, wine, and set ups are available.
Although they do not have regularly scheduled meals, they are currently working on their website and social media outlets with updates on upcoming events. For more information call the office at 409.443.5705.