Marine Corps Vietnam War veteran Eugene DeZarn brings his Golden Corral dinner to the table with his wife, Kathy, during Military Appreciation Night at the Florence, Kentucky, restaurant.

Restaurant partnership directly benefits DAV services to veterans

As did so many like him, Marine Corps veteran Eugene DeZarn had a very personal reason for adding a few dollars to a DAV collection jar at a Golden Corral restaurant in Northern Kentucky during the chain’s 2021 Military Appreciation Night on Veterans Day.

“DAV means a lot to me,” the Vietnam veteran said.

Before finding DAV, DeZarn struggled with the disability claims process at the Department of Veterans Affairs. But DAV benefits advocates were able to help him fight for benefits for conditions related to Agent Orange exposure.

“I believe in DAV,” DeZarn added. “What can I say? They’ve helped me all along.”

During the years of partnership between Golden Corral and DAV, more than $17 million has been raised to support DAV’s state and local efforts to help veterans like DeZarn and those returning from more recent conflicts. More than 6 million free thank-you meals have also been distributed in that time. In 2021 alone, more than $500,000 was raised for DAV and 100,518 free thank-you meals were served.

“We use those funds to help veterans have a better life,” said Darryl Dykes, adjutant of DAV Chapter 19 in Erlanger, Kentucky.

“We can’t thank Golden Corral and their patriotic customers enough for the support they provide DAV and the honor they bestow on the men and women who have served and sacrificed in uniform,” said National Adjutant Marc Burgess. “It enables our local leaders to build strong support for veterans in communities across the country.”

Agnes Cardenas, the adjutant of Chapter 5 in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, said Golden Corral lets the chapter set up a table for several days before Military Appreciation Night to extend the opportunity for their customers to give back. The chapter then uses the money to buy turkey baskets for veterans in need of food assistance for the Thanksgiving holiday.

In Iowa City, Iowa, a DAV chapter uses money raised to purchase vans that volunteers use to drive veterans to VA medical appointments. In Somerville, Alabama, Chapter 11 Commander John Johnson said DAV members have been able to get veterans help with their VA claims after talking with them at the restaurant.

“We are honored to once again show our appreciation for the brave men and women who serve our country,” said Golden Corral President and CEO Lance Trenary. “Serving those who have served our nation on our behalf during our annual Military Appreciation Night is something our restaurant teams look forward to every year.”

In Cumming, Georgia, Golden Corral served about 800 free thank-you meals on Military Appreciation Night, said general manager Jason Baxley. At one point in the night, the line of people waiting to get in stretched outside the restaurant.

“This is the most fun holiday to work for the staff because of how grateful the customers—mostly veterans and their families—are for the evening,” Baxley said.

For Chapter 17 in Gainesville, Georgia, the restaurant serves as a place to raise money for DAV during the annual event. Chapter Commander Graham Martin said Golden Corral has been very supportive of fundraising for local veterans.

The funds Chapter 17 raises are used to help pay for utilities, housing or food. But Sam Smith, life member and past commander of Chapter 17, said the money also helps the largest initiative the chapter undertakes: providing veterans in the area with no-cost medical devices, including wheelchairs, powered scooters and hospital beds.

“That’s the whole purpose,” Smith said, “To help veterans and their families.”