Serving the frontlines
In the days of World War II, many women took to the factories, suppling the war effort while their husbands, sons and fathers fought overseas.
Nowadays, while both men and woman fight on foreign soil, the Sandy Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) auxiliary shows its support by not only performing acts of service to those who are deployed, but to those who have already served and their families.
In Sandy, the VFW is revered as one of the most active posts in the state, and the auxiliary is equally as well thought of.
With 243 members, ranging in age from 27 to 101, the auxiliary is responsible for numerous acts of service and community education in Sandy. The men and women of the group do everything from teaching flag etiquette in the schools and volunteering at the Veterans Affairs (VA) Hospital, to lobbying on Capitol Hill and baking more than 90 dozen cookies every month to send to veterans.
"There's something for everybody," said member Jackie Key. "I love recruiting members. It's a real passion for me. I see change happening and I see the VA Hospital improving. We want to do things for the community and the more we do, the more people decide to get involved. It's a lot of fun with a lot of work."
Everyone in the auxiliary is either married to or the grandparent, parent, child or sibling of someone who has served, making their involvement very personal.
Fairly new member Katrina Newberry's husband Virgil is a member of the Oregon National Guard, and it was through experiencing the life of a military spouse Newberry realized "there was a lack of support for the soldiers in his unit."
"I had this calling to help," she said.
In her role with the auxiliary, Newberry specializes in veterans and family support, an area near and dear to her heart.
Now the VFW Auxiliary has actually adopted a unit at Camp Withycombe in Clackamas, to which they send supplies and baked goods. They've also hosted Christmas parties for units and their families.
"There's such a need to support these soldiers," Newberry said. "Even though there are so many programs everywhere, there's never enough."
For those whose loved serviceperson is no longer with them, Judy Gascon, the auxiliary chaplain is around for support.
For more than 17 years, Gascon has been instrumental in helping the grieving loved ones of soldiers who have passed and facilitated not only counsel but food and other resources to families after funerals. She also plays the piano as a volunteer at the VA Hospital, where she is joined by numerous other VFW auxiliary volunteers on a regular basis.
Jean Bettencourt is in charge of coordinating volunteers from the group to help at the hospital, a position she's held for eight years.
"(When I first walked into volunteer), I fell in love," Bettencourt said. "It's such a wonderful experience. The veterans are so grateful."
At the hospital, Bettencourt is what's considered a "pink angel."
She not only volunteers to aid veterans in the hospital with everyday tasks but works with No Veteran Dies Alone, to be there for those without loved ones to spend their last moments with them, besides much more.
"The government doesn't supply hygiene products, so volunteers purchase and supply products," Bettencourt said. People in the Sandy auxiliary also make pillows, quilts, slippers and bags for the veterans, and other special items for them at Christmas.
Laura Potter, also known as the "cookie lady," is personally responsible for making sure the monthly 90+ dozen cookies are baked and distributed with love.
"Our veterans deserve to be honored and remembered and they most definitely should be given assistance when they are in need," Potter said. "None of them should ever be forgotten or disrespected."
JoAn Gunderson, whose been with the group since 1982, makes it her mission to ensure the good works of the auxiliary live on after her by involving and educating youths on the VFW.
"They are our future and probably our biggest program is the Trick or Treat Trail," Gunderson said. The group often offers educational programs on flag etiquette in schools and donates to programs like the No Pioneer Left Behind scholarship fund.
"Any function we can get involved in and help the youth, we'll do," Gunderson explained.
Christi Bidema, 27, is currently the youngest member of the auxiliary. She is also a third-generation member. She learned about the group from her mother and grandmother, who served in the auxiliary, and her grandfather who was a member of the VFW.
"I didn't think I'd enjoy it as much as I do," Bidema admitted. "But I love it. I also have two little girls and they enjoy helping me at the VFW. I don't think a lot of people know what the VFW is."
Bidema plans to change that with her role in "Americanism," by helping provide area businesses and organizations with new, regulation flags when needed.
"I think the community doesn't really understand what we do," Bettencourt added. "Sometimes they just think we're a bar."
"You can't find a more dedicated group," president Wanda Michael said. "It's a huge organization and every single person is a volunteer. They don't get paid for what they do. They do it from the heart."
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