VFW struggles with its active members and volunteers



SANDPOINT – With few active members and volunteers, the local VFW station is unable to meet the needs of the community and veterans, said Julie Washburn Sandpoint, VFW senior vice-commander.

With many older members of the VFW and few volunteers available, the VFW was unable to organize a tribute for the 20th anniversary of 911, Washburn said. The local was also criticized for not being able to recognize the 13 US soldiers killed in Afghanistan in August.

The VFW is keen to organize these events and support the community, said Ken Hunt, Sandpoint VFW Quartermaster Warrant Officer, but is unable to do so with the current lack of volunteers. He invited interested community members who wish to organize events that support veterans or serving military personnel to donate VFW because the group would like to partner with them.

“We support the community as well as the veterans,” Washburn said. “If you are a veteran, whether you are a member or not and need help, contact the VFW. “

Other veteran groups also use the VFW Hall, from the Vietnam Veterans of America to the American Legion. Community groups and organizations such as the National Alliance of Mental Illness, a local soup kitchen, a local church, and memorial services also use the hall.

Groups and organizations can book the room, the VFW is simply asking for a donation for the use of the space, Hunt said. The bulk of the venue’s funding comes from donations from reservations.

Washburn wanted to make it clear that the VFW is neutral in terms of political and religious leanings. They are required not to align with such groups. That said, they must screen out which groups wish to book the venue, due to security and the requirements for all VFWs to maintain terrorist insurance.

Bonner General Health contacts the VFW if there is a veteran in need who needs a wheelchair or other medical equipment, Washburn said. The VFW has some in stock and will lend some material in the hope of recovering it.

“If we’re supporting a veteran, we usually support them by directly filling the need with an item,” Hunt said. “We don’t give money.

In addition to community services, the local VFW chapter provides scholarships to high school students across the county. Last year they doubled both the number of scholarships and the amount awarded.

VFW is primarily a lobby group for veterans to ensure they are taken care of after their service, Hunt said. The big problem at the local level is how to involve the younger generation of ex-combatants and inform them about the services provided by the VFW.

The demographics of local veterans are only growing in Bonner County, Hunt and Washburn said. The local tries to meet the needs of the growing number of veterans, but also fights for their attention and overcomes the gap in age differences.

“How do I get these vets to come and spend time with vets without thinking they’re alone,” Hunt said.

To support vets and recruit new members, the local VFW chapter is setting up what it calls a “base camp”. It will be a space in the VFW where veterans can relax and even get some exercise.

To accommodate a new pool table, the VFW is looking to secure sofas and workout gear for the space.

The hope is that the base camp will be open around Christmas time, Hunt said. It is aimed at the young men and women the VFW hopes to attract.

Sandpoint VFW will bring back its Beer Fest event. In previous years, they had done three a year.

The next Beer Fest is scheduled at 219 Lounge on September 25 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Now is a good time for the veterans to meet and taste some local beer, Hunt said.

VFW Meetings are held the third Tuesday of each month at 9 a.m. at VFW Hall, 1325 Pine St, Sandpoint ID. Their number is (208) 263-9613.



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