Afton Ficarra (left), a 99-year-old DAV Auxiliary member, helps at the DAV table at the Ogden, Utah, Military Appreciation Night.

If you walked into the Golden Corral in Ogden, Utah, during the restaurant chain’s annual Military Appreciation Night, you would’ve been greeted by 99-year-old Afton Ficarra.

Like other DAV and Auxiliary members who volunteered at 356 Golden Corral locations across the country, she spent the Monday after Veterans Day helping raise funds for DAV and talking with people about the organization’s no-cost assistance to veterans.

“I have always enjoyed doing things for veterans,” Ficarra said. “My husband was a veteran and spent 20 years in the service.”

Ficarra’s husband, Phil, whom she married in 1943, was the namesake for DAV Chapter 4 in Ogden. He served in the infantry in World War II and later served in Korea, where he became a prisoner of war.

“He and seven others escaped,” she said. “Then he went on to serve in Vietnam.”

When Phil retired in 1966, he joined DAV and Ficarra joined the Auxiliary. She remembers how DAV assisted her husband with free rides to his VA medical appointments.

Because of that support, Ficarra has continued to volunteer for DAV as much as she’s able, even after Phil died in 2000.

“I’ve devoted my life to veterans because of my husband,” Ficarra said. “I just enjoy seeing them come and enjoying eating (at Golden Corral). And if I get the chance to talk to them, I enjoy that.”

Veterans line up outside a Golden Corral in Florence, Kentucky, Nov. 13.

Golden Corral’s Military Appreciation Night, which marked its 22nd year in November, plays a significant role in helping DAV accomplish its mission. Since the event started in 2001, Golden Corral restaurants have served over 6 million free meals to our nation’s military and helped raise nearly $18.5 million for DAV. During the 2023 event, the restaurant served over 187,000 free meals to veterans and raised more than $1 million. That money will go toward purchasing vehicles for the DAV Transportation Network, funding scholarships and supporting various other chapter-led initiatives that serve veterans.

James Smith, DAV Department of Virginia’s senior vice commander, coordinated this year’s event in his state. He said it was a great opportunity to meet veterans and their families, recruit new members and raise funds for chapters.

“Our goal is to assist as many veterans as we can, and this event with Golden Corral definitely helps us with that,” said Smith.

Events like Golden Corral’s Military Appreciation Night reinforce the commitment DAV and Auxiliary members have to serve veterans.

“This night is more than a free meal for veterans. It’s a chance for our friends at Golden Corral to say thank you and an opportunity for veterans to come together and celebrate this community that we honor and cherish,” said DAV National Commander Nancy Espinosa. “This event is all about service—a restaurant serving a delicious free meal to honor those who served and those who continue to serve through DAV and the Auxiliary.”