The American Legion, chartered by Congress in 1919, is a patriotic veteran organization "focusing on service to veterans, servicemembers and communities.' (http://www.flpost186.org/History/legionHistory-100.html) And now in Hernando County, the American Legion Auxiliary Unit 186, Florida, is waging its own noble battle; one that finds the auxiliary determined to continue its longstanding and continual record of service to the community in the face of tough circumstances.
Even with its post--located at 12091 Cortez Blvd, Brooksville--closed and many public activities canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the auxiliary has never taken a pause in its ongoing mission to help people in need.
"We are our own association," said Lynda Anderson, president of American Legion Auxiliary Unit 186. "Our plan of action contains 17 programs."
Finding its origins in 1990s Hernando Beach, the Auxiliary--an arm of the Charles E. Murray American Legion Post 186 in Spring Hill--established a mission "to support The American Legion and to honor the sacrifice of those who serve by enhancing the lives of our veterans, military and their families, both at home and abroad." And to this day, the organization fulfills this mission; maintaining an ongoing Veterans' Food Pantry project.
"We provide food and clothing to homeless veterans and their families going into transitional housing," said Anderson. "We give them starter baskets that include food."
Even with the Post 186 closed and dropoff sites shut down, the auxiliary is forging on with the Veterans Pantry Project. To coordinate donations, contact Patti Motzer at [email protected] or 352-835-7330, or Lynda Anderson at [email protected] or 352-596-4436, to arrange for pickup and delivery to the Pantry Project.
Items needed include:
Chef Boyardee Pastas
"This is an ongoing project and has been keeping our local veterans and their families fed throughout this crisis," Anderson wrote in a Facebook post requesting donations. "Even though our Post is closed again, this needs to continue. Any help will be greatly appreciated."
The auxiliary also hosts an Angel Tree gift project for vets and their families during the holidays, and offers scholarships for young ladies who want to learn more about government and lawmaking through the Girls State program. They've conducted fund-raising efforts on behalf of K9 Partners for Patriots, which pairs veterans afflicted with PTSD with therapy dogs, and helped to coordinate a Wall of Honor recognizing veterans who reside at Forest Oaks Senior Living in Spring Hill. And they have supported The Baldomero Lopez State Veterans' Nursing Home in various ways. They've conducted fund-raisers and scholarships for female veterans, and recently hosted a driveby Memorial Day Parade at Crown Pointe Senior Living in Spring Hill.
"What a fantastic morning at Crown Pointe Senior Living in Spring Hill," read an auxiliary Facebook post. "We were called on to assist with a Memorial Day Parade for their residents, who have been, and continue to be, in lockdown, although they were brought out to the front of the residence, socially distanced, masked and fully protected, and none of the parade participants were allowed to get close. Unit 186 members and their spouses/partners/families, as well as friends and families of residents, met at Crown Pointe for the 10:00 am drive-by parade. We expected about 25 vehicles, but easily had at least 45, plus 2 Hernando County Sheriff's Deputies, one who led the parade and one who stopped traffic on County Line Road, as well as representation by Hernando County Fire & Rescue and Hernando County Ambulance. We made a double pass in front of Crown Pointe. Thanks to Raquel Russo, Crown Pointe Activities Director for starting this ball rolling, and all the staff at Crown Pointe for their support and all they do. I spoke with Raquel this afternoon and she said all the residents loved the parade and had a great time. Thanks also to Auxiliary members Patti Motzer, Joanne Holobinka, Chris Howard, Carole Henkel, Gaye Hieb, Lucretia Sarge, Gladys Stover and to my daughter, veteran Jean Ware, for their participation in this wonderful event. Unit 186 rocks!!!"
Yet the auxiliary's services are not limited to veterans. When a Hernando senior was placed in a nursing home with no clothing or resources, members poured forth with donations of clothes, nightgowns and underwear. Auxiliary members united to fund the purchase of a water heater for a member who needed one. And this graduation season, a member of Unit 186 summoned the group to assemble gift packages for 20 homeless high school students who overcame their obstacles to graduate this year.
"Unit 248 supplied backpacks and multiple gifts for them to put inside, Unit 186 and friends from the community also donated so much that the backpacks were packed tight!" read a related Facebook post.
And each year, the auxiliary partners with a Hernando school to provide school supplies for children in need.
"These children's needs are not going away," said Patti Motzer, auxiliary children, and youth chair. "The need is getting greater."
Auxiliary members themselves donate school supplies to a different school each year, including backpacks, markers, scissors, glue, pencils, colored pencils, calculators, graph paper, notebooks, crayons, headphones, tissues, wipes, etc. For a complete list or to donate to this year's effort, set to benefit Deltona Elementary School, contact Motzer.
"I think outside the box to get what we need for these kids," said Motzer. "It's important for us to help these children."
Pat Howard, the auxiliary's Unit Americanism Chair, and Motzer visited the West Hernando Library in Weeki Wachee Thursday, promoting patriotic spirit through the distribution of carefully packaged American flags and coloring books, handed out in accordance with social distancing measures. Because as is always the case with the American Legion Auxiliary Unit 186, spirit perseveres.
"When there's a need, we get everybody involved," said Motzer. "As a family."