American Legion members give back to those in need

Friends and family examine — and informally weigh — the contents of a Thanksgiving box donated to Della Duran through the Sons of the American Legion Post 25. (Staff photo: Marlena Hartz)

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

The cold, gusty morning gave Theresa Buckley the chance to give something she never received — a little help.

Buckley raised her youngest son alone, and for the single mother, holidays brought more anxiety than anything else. She never knew what she would be able to provide for her son. Many times, she feared it would be nothing.

Buckley delivered more than 15 Thanksgiving dinners Saturday morning to local needy families, as the wind whipped around neighborhood homes and sent dry leaves flying.

“I wish they would have had something like this when I was raising my son by myself. That’s an awful feeling — not knowing what you will give to your children for Thanksgiving. … It’s hard enough when you struggle day to day. … It makes me feel so good that I can provide for someone,” said Buckley, surrounded by cardboard boxes filled with frozen turkeys, canned goods, pears and vegetables.

In total, 101 food-filled boxes were donated Saturday to families, courtesy of the Sons of the American Legion Post 25. Volunteers from various branches of the post, including the Ladies Auxiliary and the Legion Riders, wove through Clovis neighborhoods in separate vehicles, generating a sweepstakes-like buzz.

“Is that my turkey, is that my turkey?” an ecstatic young boy screamed as his older sister quietly accepted a boxed feast.
Five to 10 families from each area elementary school were chosen to receive the donations, according to volunteers. Only a few knew turkeys would arrive at their doorsteps via the volunteers, Sons of the American Legion 1st Vice President Larry Campos said.

So responses varied, though pajamas and tangled hair were common sights. Dogs barked menacingly near porches, while recipients peeked warily through curtains or blinds before opening their doors. Others swung doors open cheerily and invited the harbingers of goodwill inside.

“Oh my, oh my goodness. Thank you so much,” said Della Duran, upon sight of her Thanksgiving gift.

Volunteers crammed into her small home, and six pajama-clad, boisterous children went scattering into various rooms. They soon emerged, however, to examine the contents of the box.

“This is such a surprise,” said a smiling Duran, a grandmother to nine.

This is the second year the legion has donated Thanksgiving food to families.

Gabrielle Segura, 11, the daughter of a Legion member, steadied an arm over a turkey box, its weight shifting as the delivery vehicle went around a sharp turn.

“Whoa, turkeys. Behave yourself,” Segura said playfully. After his first round of deliveries, another volunteer, Trini Ortiz, slowly stirred a cup of steaming coffee, and reflected on the day’s deed.

“Did you hear that one little boy, ‘Is that my turkey, is that my turkey?’ That one reaction, that says it all,” Ortiz said.

With the help of Buckley, Ortiz and others, more than 100 financially strapped families in the Clovis area will have one less worry for the holiday.