Chapter 14 in Hagerstown, Md., may be small, but it’s helping local veterans in a big way, thanks in part to Golden Corral’s Military Appreciation Monday. But the Chapter has a year-round presence that has cemented a close bond with the restaurant.
“We’ve been involved with Golden Corral since it opened three or four years ago,” said Chapter Adjutant Ernest Unger. “And we’re there on weekends selling raffle tickets to raise funds.”
According to Manager Richard Macfarland, the restaurant staff complements the Chapter’s efforts and helps raise funds during the week. “The staff holds raffles and sells candy at the register throughout the year, and it all goes directly to the Chapter.”
Although the restaurant is pretty busy on any given night, Macfarland said Military Appreciation Monday is like a holiday. “It gets really crazy in here, but the entire staff has a great time.”
The 2013 Military Appreciation Monday events set a new record, collecting $1,409,400 for Departments and Chapters while serving 433,500 free meals to veterans and service members.
In the 13 years since Military Appreciation Monday began, Golden Corral has served more than 4 million free thank-you meals and has helped Departments and Chapters raise almost $9 million to support their service programs.
So, how do the Chapter and the restaurant prepare for a successful event?
“As [the time] gets closer, we have a sit-down meeting and throw around some ideas,” Macfarland said. “Then we come up with a plan we can all agree upon.”
“Working with [the restaurant] is great,” Unger said. “The manager is a good guy, and we have a great relationship.”
Macfarland said that Chapter members “make it so much easier for us. They talk to the customers and explain all about the [fundraising] program.”
In 2012, Chapter 14 raised about $3,000 to support its service and volunteer programs. Among the many ways the Chapter uses those funds is to purchase equipment for the VA’s outpatient clinics in Hagerstown and Cumberland, Md. The Chapter also has donated funds to help complete a women veterans domiciliary at the VA medical center in Martinsburg, W.Va., and to support activities for all hospitalized veterans.
Of course, Golden Corral’s Military Appreciation Monday events often have unexpected moments.
Mike Welborn, Commander of Chapter 33 in Clanton, Ala., recounted one heartwarming moment. “I was working the table at the restaurant and a little girl came up. She stood there twisting and turning like all little shy girls do, without saying a word. All of a sudden, she came up to me and Phil Burnette and gave us the biggest hug. We gave the little girl a flag, and she ran back to her table.
“This was the single moment of the entire two weeks that will stand out in my mind. It has touched me in a way that I will remember for the rest of my life, and it is a memory that I will cherish for eternity,” Welborn said.
The Department of North Carolina touted a system of mutual support, which helps their efforts with Golden Corral’s fundraising for DAV every year.
“I think it’s our consistent relationship with the managers at the stores,” said Cleveland Bryant Jr., Department of North Carolina Commander. “We have a relationship with them year round with not only the managers but the employees, waiters and cooks. It’s not a one-time thing in building a relationship with them.”
Commander Bryant said DAV members are committed to making military appreciation something that goes beyond any one event.
“We’ll go (to the restaurants) on other random days and we do things like pick veterans up from nursing homes, pay the full price of their meals and then bring them back,” he said. “I know of a few Chapters that do that every month, and we have 61 Chapters in North Carolina.”
The Department of North Carolina also reciprocates by raising funds for Golden Corral’s Camp Corral program, which sends the children of injured and fallen military heroes to a one-week outdoor summer camp. “So they are more than willing to help us when Military Appreciation Day comes around,” said Commander Bryant.
The mutual support has been extraordinary. “We had one Golden Corral here raise $18,000,” Commander Bryant said. “I think that’s just great.”
“In addition to raising funds, Military Appreciation Monday is a good opportunity for the Chapter to connect veterans with our free services and opportunities to serve,” said National Adjutant Marc Burgess. “Our partnership with Golden Corral is a real success story of acknowledging the men and women who served with thank-you meals and providing funds to support Department and Chapter service programs.”