Around noon, about a dozen vets gathered in the Elks Lodge to enjoy a free lunch of chicken cordon bleu, fresh cookies, salad, cake and beef stew.
Building Bridges is a veterans’ support initiative created by The Episcopal Diocese of Western Mass. The ministry was founded about four years ago in response to a mandate from Bishop Douglas Fisher.
Since then, luncheons have been held in Northampton, West Springfield, Holyoke, Springfield, and now Greenfield. In comparison to other initiatives, Rev. Christopher Carlise, director of Building Bridges, said Greenfield’s first luncheon drew a crowd.
“We started with three leaders and no veterans (at the first luncheon) in Northampton,” Carlise said, speaking before the meal began, noting, “now, we have 50 or 60 veterans every week.”
Other organizations that’ve pledged to donate include 2nd Street Bakery, Stop and Shop, Foster’s Supermarket, BJ’s Wholesale Club, and Green Fields Market.
Moving forward, the luncheon — free to military veterans — will be held every Thursday at noon in the Elks Lodge at 2 Church St.
A chance for veterans to connect
Chad Wright, the vet initiative’s Greenfield site director, said the luncheon will occasionally feature representatives from local service organizations, adding that around veterans’ holidays the luncheon will have “special programming.”
“Northampton has about 50 people every week, that’s our vision for Greenfield,” he noted.
In addition to presentations, Wright, who served in the Army after graduating from Pioneer Valley Regional High School, said the weekly meal is an opportunity for vets to connect with each other, share experiences and pass on traditions.
“For me, I learn a lot from older veterans,” Wright said. “Genealogy — it’s a way of passing down history and tradition. It’s the first-hand perspective, and being able to pass that on to other veterans who come behind.”
“I hope it grows,” said 20-year Air Force Veteran David Shields while standing in line for food. “There are so many things veterans need to know, and they need to participate.”
Shields’s thoughts were shared by Army vet and Greenfield Mayor William F. Martin. Before the event started, the mayor gave a short speech announcing a $1,000 donation for the meals from Vietnam Veterans of Massachusetts, a nonprofit organization.
Over lunch, Martin, who served as a medic in Vietnam, related a few wartime stories to fellow-veterans seated at the table — describing “dozens and dozens of helicopters above the clouds” during Operation Pegasus, a relief operation conducted by U.S. armed forces in 1968.
Also of note, the mayor shared an experience returning to Vietnam in 2000, where he met a few retired South Vietnamese solders.
“It’s a shared experience of gratitude and respect,” Martin said about that experience, noting how soldiers from opposing sides of the Vietnam War share similar traumatic experiences, and because of that, have since forgiven each other.
Referring to the weekly luncheon, Martin added, “anytime we create an initiative to create awareness for veterans is a good thing. Veterans are eager to help other veterans — it’s peer support.”
For more information, visit www.buildingbridgeswma.com.