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‘We didn’t want to forget about them’: Carroll County American Legion, VFW posts to honor veterans despite COVID-19 hardships

Some of Carroll County’s American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars units were left unable to operate as normal this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Still, these veteran organizations have continued to provide support for fellow veterans during a trying time.

Elinore Frush, former historian of the Hampstead American Legion Auxiliary Unit 200, said the organization was forced to cancel all of its in-person events through the remainder of the year. The building is still open and patrons are required to adhere to social distancing guidelines and wear masks inside, except when seated at a table or the bar. Anyone who feels sick or feels as if they might have been exposed to COVID-19 is strongly encouraged to stay home.

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The organization is hosting a Veterans Day carry-out dinner on Nov. 8 between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Those participating must sign up for a pickup time beforehand to reduce the chance of large groups waiting for food at one time.

“We didn’t want to forget them,” Frush said. “We’ve been doing this for many years and we didn’t want to let a year go by without doing something to honor the veterans.”

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Hampstead American Legion had a handful of events scheduled for its members through the holiday season. An American Red Cross blood drive and Commander’s Feed were scheduled for this month and the Auxiliary was forced to cancel its Christmas party as well.

Frush said the Christmas party is always a well-attended event for seniors in the area. They come to play bingo, eat a nice meal, and receive gifts. The Auxiliary also cancelled its children’s Christmas party, usually held the same day and complete with a visit from Santa Clause and his elves.

The Auxiliary’s New Year’s Eve party, another popular event, was eliminated as well and the Legion has since retained some of its staff in an attempt to keep them employed during the pandemic.

“We’re trying some online fundraisers and there’s a couple raffles here and there that the Legion is doing,” Frush said. “They’re doing things within, and we’re doing the best we can. We don’t want to hit people up too hard because they have their own issues.”

Frush said she hasn’t yet seen membership take a hit during the pandemic, but would have a better idea at the end of the year once dues and renewals are counted.

VFW Post 467 in Westminster has also used alternative measures to make sure the organization can still operate as normal as possible with contact-less fundraising, gun raffles, and giveaways.

“We can only have so many people,” VFW Post 467 commander Tom Williams said. “A lot of people don’t understand that. Our functions are dependent on our fundraisers, so now we’re trying to go internal.”

Williams said most of the VFW’s members are disabled veterans aged 65 years old and above, so any in-person fundraisers with public volunteers just couldn’t happen this year.

The VFW is holding an open house on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, and intends to honor its veterans with stars cut from discarded American flags and poems for each individual. The dining room will be open and food will be available for those in attendance.

The VFW usually hosts a drive-in car show in the summer, but the organization’s income took a big hit once it was cancelled this year. The event brought anywhere from 75-150 cars, Williams said, and most of the VFW’s dinners were held on Fridays as well.

“To keep our 501(c) status, we have to do things in the community,” Williams said. “We have Boy Scouts up here, young Marines up here that we support. We gave $300 to the Westminster Wildcats football team for new jerseys, helmets, and what not.”

Williams said the most important thing the VFW can request from the community at this time is their support.

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“A lot of people are under the impression that they can’t come in,” Williams said. “They can come in as a guest, but they have to sign the book for tax purposes. They can come in, it’s a place to drink and eat. I’m trying to get younger vets to come in so they can take over the house.

"If they don’t, nonprofit organizations are going to go by the wayside.”

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