American Legion Post 17 Raising Money for New HVAC System

By Eric Rosane / ericr@chronline.com

Like many businesses and organizations in the past year, American Legion Grant Hodge Post 17 in Centralia has not been spared the financial distress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the business cut in half due to a slower turnout, a condition that persists today, the organization continues to cope and look for more stable waters ahead.

“We’re keeping our heads above water, but we’re barely going,” said post aide Bob Terrell, noting that they’ve lost at least $ 30,000 in revenue since the start of the pandemic.

Those better times could come soon, however, with Governor Jay Inslee’s message that the state is on track for a full reopening on June 30, with vaccination efforts continuing.

But when the Centralia American Legion post began to personally rally its members again, another challenge was presented when one of their HVAC systems went down.

With a potentially sweltering summer on the horizon, the postal service wants to replace the system in the coming months, but they need help from the community.

Post 17 is currently raising money to replace the system, which cools and heats the building’s social area and bar. A GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign has been set up to help with the fund, and the post has already raised 10% of the $ 13,000 goal.

The link to donate can be found online at https://bit.ly/3wIVN7s.

“If we don’t have air here, we’ll definitely go down,” said Michelle Edwards, head bartender at Post 17, from the post office. “If it’s 80 degrees up there, it’s about 90 degrees up here. It’s going to be very hot.”

On Thursday, Terrell sat in the social space and told The Chronicle that the organization has tried to raise the funds through grants, including some offered through the State Veterans Affairs Office, but so far without success. Their effort has been going on for about eight months.

“We spent some money to make it work, but it didn’t work,” said Terrell, 89, a retired sergeant who served in the United States Air Force and was deployed during the Korean War. .

Founded in 1918, Centralia’s Post 17 purchased their building located at 111 Main St. in 1948. Terrell said the old Odd Fellows hall they reside in was built in 1918, and currently only one of two HVAC systems is operating. the building.

Members and volunteers with the mail were preparing for Memorial Day ceremonies this week. Large boxes filled with small American flags were ready to be placed on veterans’ headstones and were displayed on a table in one of the social areas, along with some decorated wreaths.

Terrell said reports from American Legion are often misunderstood. It’s not just a place for veterans to socialize and “tell old war stories,” he said. It’s a place for community-minded individuals and veterans to work on projects for the general public and a place for veterans to connect with services and programs – and maybe eat a burger or two.

The pandemic brought fears over Post 17’s elder membership as well as concerns for his livelihood.

“Our finances were pretty much used during COVID … It takes a lot to keep this place open,” said Terrell, noting payments for electricity and water.

“We were quite critical of people coming here for a while because most of our members are old, like me, we didn’t want anyone to get COVID,” he said. “We’ve loosened up quite a bit, but we’re still careful about it.”

But many members have now been vaccinated against the virus.

During the pandemic, the station renovated its kitchen and sprinkler systems, a move spurred by their insurers.

Post 17 has a total of about 500 community members, 331 of which are legionnaires. About 85% of those members have renewed their dues so far this renewal season, Terrell said. The local post puts in $ 12 for every $ 50 owed annually.

“Of those 500, many are inactive. They pay their dues and come here maybe once or twice a year,” he said.

But legion money is not the main source of income that keeps the light on.

Pull tabs, the popular ticket gambling game, brings in about $ 150,000 a year on an annual basis, Terrell said, with Post 17 making about 20% of that revenue. Their sales have slowed significantly due to restrictions on seating and dining at the bar.

“I think everyone has this problem. You know business isn’t what it used to be,” he said.

Edwards said a few nights earlier that she’d only made $ 80 all night.

“That barely pays my wages and the lights,” she said.

Regardless, as social distance mandates continue to loosen up, Centralia’s American Legion post continues to do business, with social cook-ins and events in the hopes that this winter they’ll keep their Christmas events and stocking-stuffer traditions going. they have hosted celebrations in the past of the year.

Maybe also: Breathe warm, fresh air from a new HVAC system.

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