American Legion Auxiliary members have had to adjust and expand their efforts to serve the ALA’s mission due to the COVID-19 pandemic. American Legion Auxiliary Unit 849 in Richland Pa., continues its hard work and dedication to veterans in the community, with a special focus on the local veterans hockey team.
Unit 849 member Kelly Moyer, eligible through her grandfather James Howard Hadfield who served in World War II, is public affairs officer for the veterans hockey team, the Johnstown Generals.
“The purpose of the team is to give each member a safe environment for stress relief, promote brotherhood and commodity with their peers, and grow mentally and physically to be productive members of society,” said Moyer.
After going to a hockey tournament last year, Moyer noticed there weren’t very many people there supporting the veterans and decided that needed to change. She also knew hockey was an expensive sport and that the veterans needed help paying for expenses. Wanting to help financially and publicize the Johnstown Generals, Moyer came up with an idea to do a gift basket party to help raise funds for the team and local veterans.
“There are teams all over the place, but they don’t have a lot of recognition,” Moyer said. “And hockey is a very expensive sport. Our own city didn’t know we had a veteran hockey team — they do now.”
The basket party was led by Moyer and ALA Unit 849 member DJ Wagner, eligible through her father C. Thomas Sturtz who served during the Korean War. The two Auxiliary members brainstormed the idea and then presented it to the rest of the unit — everyone was on board. They started sending letters to area American Legion and VFW posts asking for help and utilized Facebook to help spread the word. Local newspapers helped share the event as well.
“Facebook was our biggest thing,” Moyer said. “Sharing the event, getting people to like it, inviting people — that was the key. The more people who invite people, the more people who see it. I may invite 30, and someone may invite 30 more, and the number just grows and grows — and it’s absolutely free.”
The basket event, benefitting area veterans and the Johnstown Generals, was held during the Heroes Cup Tournament at the local arena in downtown Johnstown. There were 110 baskets donated from the community and area businesses. In addition, 10 larger items were raffled, including a signed Mario Lemieux jersey from the Pittsburgh Penguins. Some of the baskets were children-themed, and there were lottery baskets, plant baskets, hardware baskets, kitchen baskets, gift card baskets, and more.
“There was such a broad spectrum of items — there was something for everybody,” said Wagner. “All of the residents and the community came together and helped us 100%, even during COVID.”
Unit 849 was able to raise $5,000 from the basket party. Since the event was hosted during a tournament, visitors were able to watch the veterans play, which helped raise awareness for the team and all veterans hockey teams.
“We saw there was a need, and most of these young gentlemen are in their 20s to 40s, they have families, and they have to pay for everything mainly out of pocket. So, our main angle was to get money to alleviate that expense,” said Moyer.
The Johnstown Generals were first formed in October 2019 by a Legionnaire from Post 849. The team has two Purple Heart veterans playing, and a player who was never supposed to walk again who is now skating. They also have a husband-and-wife duo who are both Marines, so it isn’t only men playing. To join the team, each player has to be 10% disabled.
“People need to not be afraid to get involved,” Moyer said. “Even during a pandemic, you can still do such great things. It was also working our mission and getting our name out there. If I get one new member out of this, I’ll be ecstatic.”