Veterans helping fellow veterans is a mission that one man started by happenstance.
Ron Schaefer, a Vietnam War veteran with the O’Fallon Sgt. Charles A. Fricke VFW Post 805 began his mission with the V.I.P. program after a friend of his made a substantial donation of furniture that was unable to be sold at auction.
“Another friend of mine picked it up and we found storage for the furniture. Then a few months later I was contacted by a veteran who needed a sofa and that’s how this program all started five years ago,” Schaefer said.
According to Schaefer, the program spread like wildfire through word-of-mouth.
“I started getting lots of calls from people who wanted to donate items and furniture to veterans after they heard about what we were doing,” Schaefer said.
This year alone, Schaefer has “cleaned out” three residential estates to load up on more items to be used for veterans who don’t have family, have limited income or become displaced with no where to turn.
“It’s a wonderful program that Ron and some other of our veterans started, and it’s grown so much in the past couple of years. What they are doing is truly what our VFW organization (and post) are all about — veterans helping other veterans,” retired United States Air Force Chief MSGT. Ed Martinez, VFW Post 805 Commander, said.
Schaefer said, while the program has been able to help about 16 veterans in the last year who needed appliances, furniture, beds, dishes, tables — you name it they’ve supplied it — there are still so many who still need help, but challenges do arise. Four of this year’s 16 veterans were in need of entire household set ups from floor to ceiling so to speak, where as the others were in need of specific items.
“Our biggest challenge was finding storage initially, and then vets who needed furnishings and what not started calling, and it took on a life of its own really. It’s all supply and demand mostly. Sometimes we’re stocked to the gills and other times we run out of stuff,” Schaefer said.
The reason Schaefer and about seven other of his metro-east veterans continue this work is a matter of respect and concern for those fellow veterans who served our country overseas without hesitation and came back to nothing.
And, as hard as it is to think about, it’s true and happens more often than people think, Schaefer said.
“It’s sad, especially when we think about all they have sacrificed to serve his or her country, and then to come back missing limbs or have injuries they must endure for the rest of their lives. It really hits home, and we want to help them, it’s the least we can do considering we came back alive, healthy with our legs,” Schaefer said.
Most often, the veterans the VFW program helps end up being disable veterans without families, Schaefer said.
“So coming back without anyone to help them, they end up renting a small place and basically have nothing. They may be a product of divorce or something like that. When you think about it and look at your own kitchen, you know there’s thousands of dollars of appliances, tools, cutlery, dishes and stuff like that and you can’t just accumulate that stuff because most disabled and/or all veterans who are down on their luck just don’t have that kind of money or resources to set up a new place,” Schaefer said.
This is where the V.I.P. crew comes in.
“So that’s where it really comes in handy because we can actually, and have several times, gone in and within four hours we’ve gone in and completely set up an entire apartment from drapes, shower stuff, linens, blankets, everything in the kitchen, living room and dining room furniture, just all in our inventory that people have given us,” Schaefer said.
Most recently, a young veteran from Washington Park, Ill. who was in dire need of assistance because he was able to reclaim custody of his four children from his ex wife, but had a house with nothing in it.
“It’s wonderful to be able to help him and his family. And, what’s even more wonderful is he’s young and strong and has begun helping me and the other guys who are honestly getting up there in age. I need younger people. Our basic V.I.P. members, about six of them, average about 70 years in age,” Schaefer said.
Schaefer said the members who deserve recognition for all their countless hours of hard work and sweat include: Dan Cushman, of the O’Fallon VFW Post 805; and, Glenn Schaefer, Harold Hughes, Steve Weik and Jim Bereitschaft, all of the Millstadt VFW Post 7980; Harold Hughes, of Millstadt VFW Post 7980.
“We don’t have formalized meetings or a website, and we are all retired, but our members reach out to those we know, like friends-of-friends to do our building projects and that’s how we get our concrete finishers, carpenters, plumbers or electricians for other things veterans who call may need help with such as Hughes and some of the guys just build a wheelchair ramp for one veteran who lives in Shiloh,” Schaefer said.
Schaefer said, Charlie Herron’s previous wheelchair ramp was in terrible shape and was very dangerous for him and others visiting, as well as a local postal worker had injured himself and broke a leg as a result of its dilapidated state.
For more information about the V.I.P. program, to donate or volunteer call the VFW Post 805 at (618) 624-6575 or visit the post and buy a drink or have your turn at video gaming. Proceeds go to the VFW Post 805 programs and services provided to military veterans.
Helping vets on another front
Three years ago we built a pavilion at Camp Hope in Farmington, Mo. It is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization to help combat wounded veterans returning form The Global War on Terror.
“We go down to Camp Hope and we cut firewood for them to assist in cutting down heating bills in the winter time, and we cook for the troops on occasions, and we maintain a memorial pavilion
Schaefer also said the VFW Post 805 in O’Fallon installs plaques for deceased military veterans at $100 a piece at Camp Hope too.
“This year we put up 24 at Camp Hope,” Schaefer said.
Since 2007, Camp Hope has provided an outdoor respite for combat wounded veterans injured in the Global War on Terror that offers our Nation’s heroes the opportunity to participate in outdoor adventures with dignity like skeet shooting, shooting at the rifle range or hunting.
Any veteran wounded in The Global War on Terror is welcome to attend Camp Hope — all expenses paid, including travel. It provides ADA compliant cabins, food and supplies and an alternative volunteer staff to accommodate veterans with almost any disability.
Visit www.camphopeusa.org for more information.
VFW Post 805 history
Sgt. Charles A. Fricke Post 8475 formed in East St. Louis, Ill., by veterans working at Aluminum Company of America who fought in World War II. The name for the Post was selected by putting the names of the 19 employees who died in World War II in a hat, and Sgt. Charles A. Fricke was drawn. VFW Post 805 moved to East St. Louis in 1951. Sgt. Fricke Post 8475 in East St. Louis burnt down in 1980.
In 1981 the building at 221-223 West First Street in O'Fallon was purchased and opened their doors Dec. 1.
VFW Post 805 sold their building in East St. Louis, Illinois and consolidated with VFW Post 8475 to become Sgt. Charles A. Fricke VFW Post 805, O'Fallon, Illinois on 29 April 1987.