BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Veteran organizations exist to connect those who have served with one another, often creating unique healing spaces for our servicemembers. In Kern County, one of the oldest veterans of foreign affairs posts is trying to continue being that for local vets but they are facing many challenges, and are asking for the public's help.
Generations of veterans have come through the doors of VFW Post 97 since it was opened in the 70s, but membership has been down and the pandemic has not made it easier to keep the lights on.
"I think we have about four months' worth of money if we don’t get any help from the community," said post commander and Navy veteran Raymond Garcia.
Already behind on utilities, Garcia is trying everything he can to keep Post 97 alive but just in the past two years, this location has been burglarized four times.
"They have snuck through our windows, broken our windows, and vandalized. So it is money out of our pockets and we have had really special veterans here that we have pulled it out of our pockets even trying to save money and making all the repairs. Can’t do that forever."
That’s why they have a hefty security system, which is usually covered by members' fees. But membership has dropped from about 500 to 300, and this comes as their kitchen and bar inside the post aren’t making the revenue needed to maintain the building.
Veteran and trustee Lee Caldwell says at this point it is cheaper to get a new building than to repair the current one.
"We are a post so we rely on our members or their family members to come in but since the pandemic hit - it really hit all non-profit organizations hard. It is just bittersweet. We have a lot of memories here and the older vets they have a lot more memories."
Now they are asking the community for donations to either restore or buy a new building in a more centric and safe part of town. They hope people will answer the call so they can continue helping others the same way the post helped them.
"Experiencing and being lost myself and finding the help through these organizations is a healing process," said Garcia. "You can feel it as soon as you walk through the doors."
And since it is military appreciation month and with Memorial Day weekend just around the corner, Post 97 are bringing back their annual Buddy Poppy donation event.
"We give them the Buddy Poppy seeds," said Caldwell. "They will put it in their lapel. Some women will put it on their hair."
Caldwell explains the poppy is the official memorial flower of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
"Buddy Poppies started in the 1920s when the National VFW started paying disabled veterans to make them for a nationwide distribution."
To this day these ornaments are assembled by disabled and needy veterans in VA hospitals. Those vets are compensated and the donations veterans receive go toward rehabilitation service programs.
"We will go out to the community and set up in our stores or wherever we can. Whatever they want to give, even a penny is good enough," added Caldwell.
They are setting up this Friday through Sunday starting at 8 a.m. at the Vons at the Marketplace in Southwest Bakersfield. They will also be at the Sam's Club starting at 10 a.m. on Gosford Road.
"But it is just to let them know that the proceeds from that stay in the Veterans of Foreign Wars organization to help out local vets here in our local community," added Caldwell.