Randall Collins VFW Post 3108, with help from the Patriot Riders of America Chapter 5 based in Waldo, recently raised $500 to provide local veterans with a turkey dinner for Thanksgiving.

Lloyd Stover Jr., president of the Patriot Riders, said this is their third year collaborating with the Belfast VFW to provide veterans with meals around this time. Last year, he said, the group gave out baskets filled with food items, but this year, because of COVID-19, that was not an option.

“We know there is a lot of need,” Stover said, and thought maybe Hannaford Supermarket could possibly provide a discount on gift cards. The manager at Hannaford, Stover said, has been working “hand-in-hand with us” on other efforts.

“In the blink of an eye,” Stover said, Manager Eric Breton said he would match our total.

VFW Operations Manager Jim Roberts said, this year because of COVID-19, Hannaford is not able to do their annual holiday meal boxes, “so they are helping us help the community.”

Breton said this effort helps families and "puts food on the table" which is a worthwhile cause. "We like to help out, wherever we can," he said.

Because of COVID-19, Breton said, "we are trying to reduce touch points." Hannaford is offering customers a way to donate to local food banks by purchasing cards at the store instead. The cards are available in whatever amount someone wishes to give and the total funds are dispersed to local food pantries, he said. Compared to the gift boxes they did in previous years, there are fewer points of contact he said.

So now the VFW has $1,000 to spend on meals for veterans. Stover said they would be purchasing $25 gift cards to hand out to people — with bigger families receiving $50. With the help of Patriot Riders, Roberts said, they will be delivering the gift cards to veterans in the community with restrictions to apply the card for food purchases only (no alcohol, cigarettes, lottery tickets).

Roberts said this year they will not be able to have their usual free Thanksgiving dinner at the post, so they had been looking for alternative ways to get turkey dinners to those who may go without, be alone, or not cook for themselves.

Because of the ongoing pandemic, the VFW will also not be participating in the annual "Great Candy Challenge" with Ames and Gladys Weymouth schools. Students in past years collected Halloween candy for troops and VFW members delivered the sweets to Bangor International Airport, where it is given to active duty soldiers as they pass through the facility.

“Because of COVID we will not be able to do this for the first time in 12 years,” Roberts said. “In a partnership with the Ames and Gladys Weymouth schools, we usually garner about 600 pounds of candy and treats that we send out to active duty troops in time for Veterans Day.”

Also impacted by the pandemic, VFW's "Hygiene for Heroes" program which collects soaps, shampoos, toothpaste and razors among other items for shipment to troops in time for Christmas. Roberts said the VFW cannot accept donations from schools but can take items directly from merchants.

“With donations collected at schools, items go from the store, then to homes, then transported to schools where they wait with increased exposure,” he said. “So we are only taking items directly from merchants.”

"Some people are purchasing items and allowing us to pick them up," Roberts said, "or they provide gift cards so that we can purchase highly needed items which are then sent to active duty troops.

“There will be zero candy sent out this year and right now we only have about 10% of what we usually send overseas for our hygiene program,” Roberts said.

For more information or to contribute to this program, contact Jim Roberts at 323-5403 or email cndymn@hotmail.com.