Weekly luncheons in Greenfield build pride with respect for veterans

  • Connie Barnes, far left, and Pamela Desilets, far right, drape a Quilts of Valor quilt over WWII Navy Veteran Bernard Schatz at Thursday's Building Bridges luncheon in the Greenfield Elks Lodge, Aug. 31, 2017. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

  • Town Councilor Maria Burge, far right, reads a certificate of recognition to WWII Veterans Bernard Schatz, far left, and Ronald Powers, left, at Thursday’s Building Bridges luncheon. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

  • Veterans in line for food at Thursday's Building Bridges luncheon, Aug. 31, 2017. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo—

  • Connie Barnes, far left, and Pamela Desilets, far right, drape a Quilts of Valor quilt over WWII Army Veteran Ronald Powers at Thursday's Building Bridges luncheon in the Greenfield Elks Lodge, Aug. 31, 2017. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo—

  • Veterans at Thursday's Building Bridges luncheon in the Greenfield Elks Lodge, Aug. 31, 2017. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo—

Recorder Staff
Published: 9/1/2017 11:08:03 PM

GREENFIELD — “I don’t deserve this,” said WWII Army veteran Ronald Powers, teary-eyed, as Quilts of Valor Foundation volunteers wrapped him in a homemade quilt. A roomful of other veterans looked on, emotional, pausing from a hot meal of meatloaf and baked potatoes at a weekly Building Bridges luncheon.

“The karma in this room is amazing — the camaraderie. You guys are slapping each others’ backs to a point I wonder if you’ll have back pain,” said the Rev. Chris Carlisle, director of the nonprofit organization Building Bridges, an Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts outreach.

WWII Navy veteran Bernard Schatz, a Franklin County resident and member of the local Elks club, was also recognized. Both were given certificates of appreciation by the town, and free flights to visit Washington, D.C., war memorials by Honor Flights of New England.

Every Thursday at noon veterans are invited to a community meal at the Elks Lodge on Church Street. Other luncheons throughout Western Mass. include weekly events in Northampton and Holyoke. Only a few people attended Greenfield’s inaugural event earlier this year. Since then attendance has exploded. This week it was hard to find a parking space.

“We started out in January. The first week we had 15. Now, we’re averaging between 60 and 70 every week,” said Associate Director Chad Wright, who also serves as Greenfield’s site director. “Today, we realize what we have is something special. Our ranks are growing.”

More importantly, Chet Saharceski, exalted ruler of Greenfield’s Elks Lodge, said the event has “become the hub for all other veterans’ services.”

Each week, someone from a local organization is on hand to answer questions. And this week’s Thursday luncheon featured eight area veterans service agencies, and a slew of public officials including Mayor William F. Martin, who served in Vietnam, and the special presentation of the quilts.

“Being a veteran, I recognized that there are gaps in service for the veterans of Greenfield. I’m here to support and help build military families,” said Town Councilor Maria Burge, a Vietnam-era Marine Corps veteran. “When I was in uniform, I was spit at, had things thrown at me.”

But organizations like Building Bridges are changing that, she said. For the first time, this past Memorial Day, Burge marched in Greenfield’s parade, “because I felt safe.” Town Councilors Isaac Mass and Verne Sund, a 21-year Air Force veteran, were also on hand at the luncheon.

Others in attendance expressed similar sentiments: “It’s very heart warming — the camaraderie, brotherhood — it’s wonderful to see,” said Army veteran Andy Lively, who served in Vietnam.

“This is a great thing. One of the best that has happened in a while,” Sund said.

“It’s good to see people out there who recognized us. Everybody is helping everybody, which is a great thing in these days,” said Mason Whiting, another veteran.

“What they’re doing here in Greenfield is special. You don’t see that often anymore. Great credit to the community for doing this,” said John Paradis, an Air Force veteran and Veterans Affairs representative on hand to answer questions. Paradis said he travels often throughout New England for work and hasn’t seen anything like Greenfield’s Building Bridges program.

Along with the Veterans Affairs and Quilts of Valor Foundation, a national organization that gives quilts to vets with a Western Massachusetts chapter, representatives were on hand from Homeward Vets, Community Connection Healthcare, Disabled Veterans of America (which has given about $1,500 to the luncheon), Veterans of Foreign Wars, and others.




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