Where did you serve and what did you do?
VFW Post 4031 was established on Main Ave in Durango Colorado in 1945 by World War II Veterans. The Post has been active for over 75 years, and many of our members have been part of the Post since their childhood. We are blessed to have a supportive Auxiliary and a generous community. We fully intend to serve for the next 75 years!
2020 was a trying time but it motivated us to become better. Despite being forced to close from March until June, we were able to remain viable while other Veterans Service organizations were forced to permanently close or severely curtail their hours and operations. Even while our Canteen was closed, we provided services to local veterans including food and gas cards, assistance with rent, insurance, phone and vehicle repair bills, and housing and employment assistance.
We also took care of our employees. For the three months we were closed, we continued to pay our staff and increased their pay to make up for lost tips.
Lastly, we finished renovating our kitchen, downstairs hall and our bathrooms. We raised over $41,000 in cash donations for this upgrade and much more in donated materials and volunteer labor.
Although we were unable to have traditional Memorial Day services, the Poppy Drive and Open House, our Post Honor Guard conducted a ceremony at the local cemetery which our local newspaper (the Durango Herald) covered. The Veterans Memorial at Greenmount cemetery is a special place as our Post was instrumental in its design and development. We maintain and clean the Memorial each year and maintain the service, National and State flags. The Memorial has been praised by many veterans visiting from other communities. We take a great deal pride in this ongoing effort.
The city of Durango could not grant a parade permit for Veterans Day. Our Post has sponsored the Veterans Day parade in Durango for over 20 years and we hated to cancel it, so in 2020 we decided to have a vehicle only “convoy” instead of a traditional parade. We also coordinated a fly over of four F16s by the Colorado Air National Guard. Both events were extremely well received by our community.
2020 was our first year of participating in Wreaths Across America: Our local American Heritage Girls Troop asked for our assistance in the National effort to place holiday wreaths on veterans’ graves across America. Over 400 wreaths were placed at Greenmount, Bayfield, Crestview, Ignacio West and Ignacio East Cemeteries to honor fallen soldiers on December 19th. The majority of the credit goes to the American Heritage Girls for organizing this event, but we are proud that our full Honor Guard and many of Post and Auxiliary members participated. in placing wreaths on graves.
CABA Christmas Food/Toy airlift: Our Post received and distributed packages from a food/toy drive sponsored by the Colorado Aviation Business Association, Metro State University Aviation and the Colorado Veterans of Foreign Wars. Post and Auxiliary members met aircraft loaded with 1,500 pounds of donations, transported the donations to the Post where we wrapped presents and sorted the food and then delivered boxes of food and toys to over 100 families in our community.
Assistance to other Veterans Service Organizations: The pandemic forced the closure of the Veterans Outreach Center in Bodo Park. The Disabled Veterans of America lost their meeting space and we have housed them at our Post while they regroup and recover financially. Many other services took place at the Outreach Center, and while we cannot completely fill the gap left by the closure, we are providing space for Dr. Candyce Tart, a psychologist for the Department of Veterans Affairs who splits her time between Farmington, NM and Durango, CO. Our VSOs are working with the community to fill the void caused by the loss of the Veterans Outreach Center.
Coordination with other organizations: In 2020, VFW Post 4031 spearheaded a Veterans Relief fund by coordinating the fund raising efforts of our Post, the American Legion and the Elks Lodge. The collaboration between the organizations has allowed for efforts that were previously overlapping to be concentrated where the need is most. The result has been a very successful collaborative effort to assist more veterans and their families in our community as well as improved relations between all three of our organizations.
How are you #StillServing?
Veterans Services: The Post assists veterans and their families either directly through loans, grants and food and gas gift cards or by connecting them with the VA and other organizations in the community. We educate veterans and families about education, health, housing assistance and job opportunities and assist them in attaining benefits and support.
Veterans Breakfasts: In November of 2019 Post 4031 began organizing Veterans Benefit Breakfasts previously sponsored by the Durango Elks Lodge #507. These breakfasts are held in our refurbished kitchen and hall at our Post every first and third Sunday of the month. Funds raised at these breakfasts initially helped to offset the cost of kitchen and bathroom renovations, but since summer of 2021 have been dedicated solely to veteran assistance.
Memorial Day: The Post participated in all three of the traditional ceremonies this year. At 10am our Color Guard presented the flags while the Vietnam Era Veterans Association honored the fallen at in Iris Park. At 11am the VFW hosted a ceremony at the Veterans Memorial at Greenmount Cemetery. Our volunteers had previously placed flags on every veteran’s grave, cleaned the memorial and replaced the National, State and service flags. At noon we participated in a wreath ceremony into the Animas River from the pedestrian bridge behind Rotary Park to honor those lost at sea. Following the Veterans Day Ceremonies the Post held an Open House for the community.
Veterans River Float: The VFW, American Legion and the Elks co-sponsor this year’s 4th annual Animas River Float and picnic with Mountain Waters Rafting. This event is free for Veterans and families and includes a rafting trip and a picnic lunch.
Veterans Stand Down Day: Our Post sponsored the 2021 event at the La Plata County Fairgrounds on October 6th to provide information and resources for veterans in need, homeless or just in search of information on how to get help.
VFW Website Solution Program: Our Post created a new Post 4031website designed with two goals. The first is to provide Post and Auxiliary members with information that enables their increased participation in our activities. Second the Web site is specifically designed to allow all community members to learn about the Post and how they can assist veterans in the area. This has increased the visibility of VFW Post 4031 and recognized those individuals, companies, and organizations that contribute to the Post.
Other Veterans Organization Assistance: The Disabled American Vets (DAV) lost their office space in Bodo Park. Among other things, the DAV provide free transportation to the VA hospital in Albuquerque, NM. Losing that service would have a huge impact on veterans in our community. We are providing the DAV with a home while they regroup. We also provide a place for the Blue and Gold Star Mothers to meet.
The Veterans Outreach Center of La Plata County closed. There is no longer a central place in Durango for veterans to access education, housing, medical and other earned benefits. Our Post is assisting in filling this huge gap, but we are stepping up to sponsor the La Plata County Veterans Stand Down every year. Our Post Veterans Service Officer working in conjunction with the La Plata County Veterans Service Officer (also a Post member) have stepped up to help with Veterans Outreach.
Military Funeral Honors: We support burials, memorials and graveside services throughout the Four Corners region. Our Honor Guard has been able to support gravesite honors that were postponed to to COVID in 2020. Additionally, the Post conducts a ceremony on Memorial Day at Greenmount Cemetery to honor the men and women who died while serving in our armed forces and provides a Color Guard for home Durango High School football games. The Southern Ute Tribe recently honored our Honor Guard in recognition of the many funerals and tribe events they have supported. It was quite an honor.
Flag etiquette and honors: Our Post places flags on the grave of every veteran in Greenmount Cemetery on Veterans Day. We also retire over 3,000 old or damaged flags entrusted to us annually by the community.
The Payroll Department of Durango offered our Post a grant of $7,000 if we could match that amount in new donations. The Post was able to “Meet the Match” in a very short time with the help of donors who recognize the value that our VFW Post has to the community. The resulting funds have been used to increase our outreach to local veterans who are ill, in need, or otherwise need help.
During this trying time our membership has increased 15% due to our community outreach, membership drives, and the visibility of our Post in the area. We now have 230 members which is the highest it has ever been. It has been gratifying that membership has increased among younger veterans, women, and minorities. The energy these individuals have brought to the Post has enabled us to grow all our veteran support programs.
Why do you do it?
VFW Post 4031 is dedicated to serving our members and all of our local veterans in any way that we can. We have teamed with local veterans organizations to avoid duplication of services in this time of limited resource. We are proud to allow any veterans organization to use our facilities if they no longer have a space of their own. COVID has impacted the veterans services in our community and we are working hard to fill the void as much as possible. We have been gratified and honored by the outpouring of support from our members, our auxiliary and our community.