Roger Wagner knows the value of DAV’s services. A few years ago, he was undergoing dialysis, and getting to the hospital for the treatment he needed to live became challenging. “My wife would have to come and pick me up,” he explained. “There was no prior ambulatory service in Northern Kentucky.”
Fortunately for Wagner and other veterans in his community, enough funds were raised from Golden Corral Military Appreciation events to purchase a 12-passenger Ford van that was donated to the VA medical center in Cincinnati. Now for Wagner, and many others, transportation is just a call away.
“We have this van to take veterans to and from their appointments,” said Wagner, who serves as the Adjutant and Chaplain of Chapter 19 in Cold Spring, Ky. Through the opportunity Golden Corral created and the generosity of its customers, the event continues daily to make a positive difference in the lives of those who’ve served.
Golden Corral restaurants hosted their 15th Annual Military Appreciation Night Nov. 11, 2015, at all of their locations nationwide, serving up a free “thank-you” meal to current and former service members. The event honors veterans and helps raise funds for DAV Chapters and Departments, supporting initiatives that help veterans lead high-quality lives with respect and dignity.
“This is a wonderful way for the men and women of the local Chapters to reach out to other veterans who come through the same lines and a good way to reach out to the community,” said Wagner.
“The entire Golden Corral system is very passionate about supporting our military service men and women, and we believe thanking them with a free dinner buffet is one way to show our immense appreciation for their service to our country,” said Lance Trenary, President and CEO of Golden Corral.
For the past 15 years, Golden Corral and DAV have seen the impact of the partnership, and veterans have benefitted from the local veteran programs supported by this fundraiser. Since the program began, Golden Corral has served more than 4.7 million free dinners to veterans and has raised more than $11.5 million in donations to support local DAV Chapters and their community veteran programs throughout the nation. The 2015 Military Appreciation Night events collected over $1.3 million for Departments and Chapters while serving more than 336,000 free meals to veterans and service members.
“We are very honored to have raised more than $11.5 million for DAV over the years and look forward to continuing our partnership in the coming years,” said Trenary.
“In addition to raising funds, Military Appreciation Night is a great opportunity for our many Chapters to connect with veterans throughout the nation and engage them about the services we offer veterans at no cost,” said DAV National Adjutant Marc Burgess. “Golden Corral was the first business in the country to provide free meals for veterans in recognition of their service. While others have followed their lead, this event is far and away the most productive of its kind in supporting veterans long after the holiday is over.”
For many of DAV’s local Chapters, this night of camaraderie and fundraising generates momentum that helps sustain their mission of service and advocacy throughout the year.
The donations give us the capability to give back to other veterans through our service programs, information sessions and homeless stand downs,” said Commander Ron Burgess, of DAV Chapter 48, Dale City, Va. “It’s veterans helping veterans.”
“We like to give back to the veterans in the community and to their families,” added Mattie Whitfield, DAV Chapter 33 Commander in Odenton, Md. “We’re all about helping veterans, and the funds we raise here help us do that.”
For Army veteran Jayme Dallas, of Columbus, Ohio, the sustainment of these programs can be the difference between getting the services he needs and going without.
“Many of these veterans I know have been homeless at various times, and coming to events like Military Appreciation Night connects these veterans to each other and services they need,” he said.
Dallas added that for a number of veterans, it’s more than a meal. It’s also a reunion and an opportunity to celebrate their service.
Commander Steve Girdler, of DAV Chapter 19 in Kentucky, also believes the event honors veterans in many ways beyond a free meal. “The event also allows DAV to continue its mission of empowering our veterans to live high-quality lives through Golden Corral’s donations and support of local DAV programs,” he said. “It also reminds veterans that people care and appreciate their service. It gets vets out, it gets DAV’s name out, and it shows our nation’s veterans who we are and what DAV can do for them. I am proud to be a part of it.”