At the Winder, Ga., Golden Corral restaurant, Military Appreciation Monday is more than a meal—it’s a full-fledged community event. And for one night, veterans become the town’s focus.
Although rain interfered with many planned activities this year—a live band, professional wrestling, trick horses and more—it didn’t dampen spirits.
“This is the time of year the Winder community comes together to show our appreciation to what the veterans have done for us,” said Wayne Moore, associate manager at Golden Corral. “We want to do the best we can to show our vets that at Golden Corral we appreciate them—we want to serve them as they have served us.”
Next year, Moore and his management team hope to bring a circus to the event. Seriously. Though the restaurant’s list of activities may make it a “Big Top,” Golden Corral franchises, in partnership with DAV Departments and Chapters, have once again managed to exceed their own lofty expectations.
In 2012, 423,615 veterans received a free meal through the program, and patrons donated $1,260,454 to support grassroots service and advocacy initiatives for veterans and their families.
Those totals exceeded previous year records for meals by nearly 50,000, with contributions rising by nearly $225,000.
“The money we raise here is so important to our mission,” said Willie Lester, a Service Officer for Chapter 2 in nearby Athens. “All our events from the Thanksgiving drive to our Memorial Day service and after-school programs are helped from this event.”
“It also helps us with our service program, so we can make sure our fellow veterans get their benefits,” said Lester.
Golden Corral has served more than 3.6 million free thank-you meals and helped raise more than $7.3 million for DAV through the program, which began in 2001 when Golden Corral owner Hu Odom collaborated with the DAV to thank those who served and are serving at his Virginia Beach, Va., restaurant.
In addition to fundraising, the event offers Chapters and Departments an invaluable opportunity for outreach, with Chapter Service Officers like Lester getting the opportunity to make veterans, their families and survivors aware of the services and benefits available to them.
“We started this because we wanted to do something for our community, and the community wanted to do something for the vets,” said Moore. “We don’t do enough to thank vets for what they’ve done for us.
“Even though I’m not a veteran, I’m proud of DAV,” Moore said. “Everyone who is involved in this event is a supporter. I wish we could do more.”
“In every way, Golden Corral somehow continues to outdo themselves in their support of veterans and their families,” said National Headquarters Executive Director Marc Burgess. “Military Appreciation Monday is a unique program that unites veterans as a community and ensures DAV is able to fulfill our promises to those who’ve served. We’re grateful for their support and look forward to another exciting year.”