One of the main job requirements of a national commander is to inspire the organization’s volunteers. Yet, I find that the opposite is often true.
During my recent visit to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, it was the American Legion Family that inspired me. Still reeling from two historic hurricanes, I was told repeatedly by residents there that “We’ve been blessed, others have it worse.”
More than 40 percent of the region still does not have electric power and utilities on a permanent or consistent basis. Tarps still cover the roofs of thousands of homes. Tents in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, serve as a VA clinic.
I was concerned about the ability of The American Legion to make a difference due to the remoteness of the islands. Unlike the relief efforts in Texas and Florida, Legionnaires weren’t able to fill trucks with supplies and drive them to the affected areas. Even commercial air travel was nearly impossible during the initial aftermath.
My concerns were unfounded.
In addition to the grants provided by programs such as the National Emergency Fund, Temporary Financial Assistance and Operation Comfort Warriors, American Legion departments and posts have matched their “devotion to mutual helpfulness” with monetary donations. The American Legion Department of Pennsylvania sent “50,000 to the Department of Puerto Rico. North Carolina added another $10,000. Florida Post 75 raised another $4,500 and Hollywood Post 43 in California contributed $2,200. All told, more than $72,000 have been raised by legion entities.
Due to communication difficulties, Legion Family members in those islands can still apply for NEF grants beyond the February 1 deadline. Extensions can also be granted to applicants in other areas depending on their circumstances.
Gov. Kenneth Mapp of the Virgin Islands was appreciative of American Legion support. But he also pointed out a sad reality. Hurricanes Irma and Maria will not be the last disasters that strike the region. Elsewhere, we have seen crippling blizzards across the United States, gargantuan wildfires in California and deadly mudslides that have killed at least 21 people.
We need a strong National Emergency Fund. It’s not a matter of if but when the next natural disaster hits. Just like insurance, the hope is that you will never need it. But by giving generously, you will be helping your brothers and sisters in the American Legion Family when natural disaster strikes. Like our other American Legion Charities, one hundred percent of NEF donations go to the stated cause.
Denise H. Rohan