To the editor:
As the Christmas storm swept across Cape Ann, pummeling the city with torrential rains and with winds bending flagpoles and downing power lines with near-hurricane force, it was met head on with a force of equal intensity and determination that refused to buckle under Mother Nature’s onslaught.
That force was made up of the officers and fellow Legionaries of the Capt. Lester S. Wass American Legion Post No. 3, together with the “legion” of volunteers who were preparing, serving, boxing and delivering the 2020 American Legion holiday ham dinner to recipients in Gloucester, Rockport, Manchester, Essex and Ipswich on that truly miserable winter day. Their goal was to deliver complete holiday ham meals with all the extras to fellow veterans, those less fortunate, elderly, unemployed, homeless, and those who were simultaneously suffering through COVID-19 and an economic plague that struck them without mercy or forewarning.
We were determined to send a clear and convincing message to our fellow citizens that you deserve at least a hot holiday meal during this period of darkness and tragedy and perhaps a ray of hope secure with the knowledge that you were not alone nor forgotten. And so we reached out: to the 84-year-old veteran who was always alone on Christmas Day; to the single mother who was courageously battling two forms of stage 4 cancer and often didn’t have the strength to boil water but wanted to ensure that her family had a full Christmas meal; to the widow of a World War II veteran who had just returned from the hospital after suffering a stroke and if we didn’t deliver a hot meal would have probably had a Christmas meal from a can; to the elderly couple, both in their 80s and suffering from cancer who recently returned from the hospital; and to the young family without jobs who just wanted a Christmas meal for their family.
These are only a few of the stories of the almost 600 recipients of this holiday dinner. Although this was a 50% increase in requests over Christmas 2019, we accepted the challenge and the responsibility that went with it without a moment’s hesitation. We did it. It was all accomplished by volunteers who took time out of their busy lives, put a pause on their own Christmas celebration with their families, braved both the threat of the pandemic as well as the absolutely miserable weather to prepare, serve, box and load meals into almost 60 vehicles whose volunteer drivers then spread out throughout these five communities to deliver the meals to the grateful citizens. There was no hesitation, there was no fear, just a determination to push through the elements and succeed. And succeed they did.
This can-do attitude I have had the honor to observe in our citizens through both the 2020 Thanksgiving and now Christmas. They never give up, they never faltered and because of them Gloucester is a better place, as are its citizens. They demonstrated the true meaning of Christmas, humanity and caring. They demonstrated that although society may be in crisis, these people rallied to take care of their neighbors, despite the obstacles.
As I did at Thanksgiving, I need to single out chaplains Paul Krueger and Brian Torkildsen and their team of cooks, who came through both on Christmas Eve to prepare the meal as well as Christmas Day to do the final cooking.
To Deborah Krueger, Vi Chipperini, a number of Gloucester Sea Cadets and their parents as well as some other resourceful young men who braved the soaking ran (and I mean soaking) to constantly carry the boxes of meals out of the waiting cars of the volunteer drivers so they could proceed on their mission.
To all the volunteer servers and packers whose efforts made for a flawless assembly line to include Michael Davis, the former department (state) commander and current alternate National Executive Committee member of the American Legion, to our beloved own state senator, Bruce Tarr, who again demonstrated his dedication to both veterans and the less fortunate — he truly leads by example — and who again amazed me with his sartorial selection, a picture of which can be found on the Post No. 3 Facebook page (Warning: Wear sunglasses when you view his picture!), and City Councilor Melissa Cox and her husband who went above and beyond the call of duty. To Open Door President and CEO Julie LaFontaine, who opened her arms and doors to the Open Door building so that this Christmas operation could take place in a safe and healthy environment.
To our numerous donors whose monetary and food donations enabled us to rise and meet this explosive increase in requests this Christmas without missing a beat.
Lastly but definitely not the least, to all my fellow volunteers who answered the call, took precious hours away from their own family holiday traditions, to brave the miserable weather conditions to insure that everyone could enjoy, if only for a few hours, something “normal” in these abnormal times, namely a Christmas meal!
I think you from the bottom of my hear and I am honored to have met all of you who participated in this event. I am not sure that you can begin to understand what it means to those you helped; for many it meant everything. Someone cared! You are the true heroes and your efforts will never be forgotten. But this is what we in the American Legion do. We give back. We take care of our fellow veterans and those in need. Many of us fought in wars to preserve and defend our freedom. The American Legion continues to fight in peacetime to ensure that everyone should share in those freedoms and what they mean!
Mark L. Nestor
Capt. Lester S. Wass American
Legion Post No. 3