Montville — Thanks to the generosity of the community, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10060 has a new accessible ramp and a chance to continue serving veterans in need.
When the state forced all non-essential businesses to close in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Montville Memorial Post at 91 Raymond Hill Road in Uncasville found itself in dire straits. “All the bars have been closed. The only way we generate income is from our venue rentals and alcohol sales. It’s the only thing that keeps the lights on,” said post commander Dave Lamirande.
The post has a mortgage, utilities and insurance to pay, so “we have to have income,” said quartermaster John Desjardins.
“I had to make a quick decision,” Lamirande said. With some ingenuity, the VFW has converted its downstairs event hall into a restaurant serving hot dogs, burgers and the occasional chicken parmesan. The post was able to generate enough money to stay open but was still burning through its savings.
At the same time, post officials were struggling to figure out how to replace the old ramp at the front of the building – a project that was expected to cost over $16,000.
When bars were allowed to reopen, the post’s upstairs bar, called the canteen, couldn’t because it didn’t comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act. “It was a vicious Catch-22,” Lamirande said. The post office needed to reopen its canteen to pay for the ramp, but it needed the ramp to reopen the canteen.
Post officials tried to get a construction loan, “but the bank looked at our books and we hadn’t made any money for two years,” Lamirande said.
The ramp “wasn’t safe. As you went up it was uneven,” said Bill Allen, owner of WR Allen Co. of Montville. His general contracting company donated in-kind services and materials for the project.
The Post is a service organization. In addition to contributing to the national VFW, the Montville post offers scholarships, conducts flag retirement ceremonies, and offers its event hall free of charge for celebrations of life, and at reduced cost to others. organizations. Postal officials also help plan the town’s Memorial Day Parade, and the Post holds a party afterward, in addition to other charitable projects in the community.
For veterans, VFW-trained Accredited Service Agents, such as Desjardins, provide free assistance and advocacy for filing Veterans Administration claims and applying for military separation benefits. The posts also foster camaraderie, especially for veterans who may feel isolated.
“We try to attract newcomers from Iraq and Afghanistan, to give them a place where they can be themselves,” Lamirande said. He said he has worried every day for two years about the possibility of them losing the position that brings so much to veterans.
Late last year, he shared his concerns with childhood friend Councilor Billy Caron, who knew he had to find a way to help. “If we couldn’t get our veterans here who were disabled, where are we? Caron said. “It is part of our moral duty.
Caron told Lamirande, “these things take time,” but once he started asking the community for help, “I didn’t get a ‘no’.”
The first check – for $5,000 – came from the Mohegan Tribe. “There is no greater honor than helping those who have served our nation admirably,” Tribal Council Chairman James Gessner said via email. “When this help is right here in Montville, our friends and neighbors for over 13 generations, it is even more special for us.
Veterans and community assistance prompted Home Depot to provide $4,700 in gift cards to purchase gear.
Meg Martellotta, assistant vice president of retail operations for CorePlus Credit Union, said the credit union was proud to donate $500.
Charter Oak Credit Union donated $5,000 to the project. “We have a branch right across the street here on (Route) 32, so for us it was a no-brainer,” said President and CEO Brian Orenstein. “What’s better than a wheelchair ramp? And without the ramp, they were closed here because they couldn’t go upstairs, so it was just a great opportunity for us to give back.
Contributions ultimately totaled over $15,000.
Meanwhile, the cost of materials skyrocketed due to pandemic-related supply chain issues, bringing the cost of the ramp to nearly $20,000. But the community ensured the post had its handrail, with Allen contributing a portion of labor costs, design services, and materials as an in-kind donation.
Allen was a Marine Corps rifleman “many years ago,” he said. Because of his service and his love for the city, he said, “I just felt obligated.”
Lamirande wanted a grand reopening, but the financial situation of the post office was so serious that she had to reopen the canteen as soon as the ramp was finished at the end of March.
Still, he wants the community to know how thankful the post managers are: “I haven’t had a chance to thank them properly.”