John P. McAvoy sat down at a long table at the Greenfield Elks Lodge with a plate of chicken stir-fry and rice. But it isn’t just the hearty food that draws him to the free meal for veterans; it’s the camaraderie with other veterans and opportunity to network.
The commander of Chapter 33 of the Disabled American Veterans, an Army veteran and Montague resident says the “concept of building bridges within veterans’ service organizations is important” to him.
Sometimes information on employment opportunities, toiletries and information on veterans’ services are provided at the meal.
Part of the Building Bridges Veterans’ Initiative through the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, the Greenfield meal is part of the church’s outreach to veterans. Other Building Bridges veterans’ meals take place in Northampton, West Springfield and Holyoke.
According to Chad E. Wright, associate director of Building Bridges and a former Army National Guardsman, the Rt. Rev. Douglas J. Fisher, the region’s bishop, brought with him to Western Massachusetts a desire to make veterans’ causes and concerns a primary ministry of the diocese. He had been a chaplain at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Peter R. Hebert, co-director of the program in West Springfield, says the monthly meal there is “a service to the vets in West Springfield in thanks for all they have done for our country.”
Lunch is served there at Grace Lutheran Church, 1552 Westfield St., Route 20, on the last Wednesday of each month from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
“This is a good time socially for the vets,” Hebert said. “They look forward to each month.”
The meal – which began last year – serves between 30 and 40 persons each month.
In the future he hopes to have speakers to discuss what is available in the area for veterans.
David E. Bruffee, a volunteer at the Greenfield meal and Army veteran of Vietnam, is junior warden at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Ashfield. He considers helping with projects such as the veterans’ meal is something “Jesus calls us to.”
The Rev. Christopher A.E. Carlisle, director of the Building Bridges program for the Diocese of Western Massachusetts, says Jesus and the Gospels are “all about the margins,” and people are marginalized in a variety of ways including socially, economically and racially.
“My experience of veterans is that often they are pushed to the margins” after they have returned from “sacrificing and risking their lives” for people who don’t know how to relate to them. They struggle to endure their battle trauma and to connect to people in their community, he added.
The meal program is a vehicle for connection, conversation and friendship and a way to make connections among generations of veterans.
At the Greenfield meal, veterans represent wars and conflicts from World War II to the present.
Wright and Bruffee prepare the meals, provided through the Episcopal Diocese and donations. Meatloaf is a popular meal; meals usually consist of comfort food like Swedish meatballs with noodles and stir-fries.
Dessert is donated by Second Street Baking Company in Montague, while Fosters Supermarket in Greenfield donates soup. Bread is given by Stop & Shop.
The Building Bridges initiative began three years ago in Northampton and in Greenfield in January.
It’s also a way to offer thanks to the veterans. “If you haven’t been in the military, you can’t understand what it’s like to be a veteran,” Bruffee said.
Without an American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars post at which to meet, area veterans appreciate the meal at the Elks Club. This lunch provides them a place to get together and talk about anything from weather to war and to learn about services available to them.
“The outreach is important to me,” McAvoy said.
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