To fight a rapid decline in membership in recent years, the veterans of the Utica/Shelby American Legion Post 351 are working with the legion's state-level Post Revitalization Team to help it stay open.
Beginning on Friday, Oct. 18 and continuing through the next day, the team and local volunteers will work the phones and knock on doors of local veterans as part of an initiative to not only increase membership, but to help veterans in general. A service officer will be available to help regarding VA disability benefits and other issues.
"We have a lot of information that we need to get out to our veterans that because they don’t come to the post meetings, they’re not getting," said post commander Timothy Welker, who hosts a monthly meeting featuring speakers on topics ranging from the Affordable Health Care Act to assisted living at its hall on 46146 Cass Ave. in Utica. "It's gotten to the point where we're fighting to survive."
John Knox, a past state commander, explained that Post 351 has declined in membership from a peak of about 795 to 315 largely due to the passing of World War II veterans in recent years. Declines have affected membership to the point where printing a regular newsletter is no longer a viable option, he said.
How to help
There is reason for optimism. Knox estimates that in the area, there lives about 1,000 veterans who are not yet involved with the legion, which is the nation's largest wartime veterans service organization. In addition to the open house in October, there are two more outreach events scheduled this year:
- The post will hold its annual steak dinner on Saturday, Sept. 21, from 5:30 to 8 p.m. It features steaks grilled to order, corn on the cob and potatoes. Tickets are $11 for adults and if you purchase your ticket in advance you will receive a free raffle ticket. Call (586) 731-9833 or (586) 801-0081 for more information.
- A craft and vendor show is scheduled for Dec. 7 at the post from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The event is being held to raise money and items to support deployed troops. Santa will be there for photo opportunities and there will be materials available for anyone to make a Christmas card for the military members who will be overseas for the holidays. Each crafter and vendor will also be donating a phone card to send with the packages so the deployed troops can reach out to their families for the holidays. It is open to the public and will feature local crafters with handmade products like jewelry, soaps, wire creations and lots of local food products, and vendors such as Avon, 31 Gifts, Tupperware, Paparazzi Jewelry, Origami Owl, Tastefully Simple, Pampered Chef, Partylite and Pure Romance.
Fabric of the community
Post 351 also sponsors the Utica Wiley Elementary Cub Scout troop and hosts flag retirement ceremonies twice annually. The post is home to the Macomb County Marine Corps League veterans group and the Utica Lions Club. Various other charities use the hall for their community fundraisers.
However, in the age of social media, Knox said, younger veterans tend to stay away from leaving the home to network and find information. He's hopeful, but confident that that trend will reverse it.
"We've never done it before at this post, but we've done it at many posts in the state," he said. "If there's a need in the community as there is here, we'll be able to bring it back."