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Facing financial troubles, Longview VFW post asks public for donations

By by Peggy Jones
April 26, 2012 at 10 p.m.

Longview's VFW Post 4002 recently won a big battle - just mustering a full slate of officers to serve for the coming year.

With dwindling membership, the post had several slots up for election with no candidates. That prompted a threat from the state Veterans of Foreign Wars in Austin that, if Post 4002 couldn't fill its full slate of officers, it would lose its charter.

Under the gun, enough members stepped up to serve, and the charter - granted in 1945 - was preserved.

But once again, members find the post in danger - this time, because of financial trouble.

There were rumors the post was struggling financially, said Quartermaster Mark England. But until he took office and actually looked at the books, he said he had no idea how bad the financial situation really was.

He and Post Commander Jim Martin issued a public appeal for help Thursday.

"The post needs to come up with about $20,000 - soon," Martin said.

"I had absolutely no idea it was this bad," England said, "We have a plan of action. But we've got to pay the bills the next few weeks in order to put that plan in place."

Speaking at the Post on Ambassador Row, the Vietnam veterans held nothing back.

"On paper we may have 500 members, but we never see most of them. We only have, maybe 20 members who actually participate," Martin said.

"We're not alone," England added. "VFW posts close across the country every month."

One by one, they said, various fundraisers went by the wayside.

The post used to host bingo - but a new bingo hall put them out of business, they said.

"We couldn't compete with modern bingo," Martin said.

And then there was the annual Run for the Wall biker run that stopped at the post. It went away, too, they said.

"The only way the post makes money anymore is through the cantina, which isn't much," Martin said.

Serving dinner on Friday night has become the largest, most dependable revenue stream for the post.

On any given Friday night, Martin said, the post serves a full menu for 65 to 75 customers.

"Friday nights keep us going right now," he said.

He hopes more people will come for the $12 ribeye; the $14 Porterhouse steak or the shrimp or catfish dinners.

One of the post's biggest expenses recently, Martin said, was having to install a new grease trap for the kitchen.

"That cost something like $13,000," he said. "But the city inspector said we had to have it to keep the kitchen open. Since our Friday night steak meals are our main source of revenue right now, we had no choice but to spend that money."

England believes the post can also start making money by renting out its 4,000-square-foot banquet hall.

"You can't rent a bigger, nicer place for a better price," he said.

Part of the post's financial recovery plan, England said, is to aggressively market the banquet hall for wedding receptions, birthdays or anniversaries.

And there are other ideas to help breathe new life into the aging VFW post. The quartermaster envisions a "think tank" of members who will pool ideas to come up with a host of changes to increase membership and revenues.

But they need help now, England said.

"Nobody owes us anything," England said, "but we're all veterans of foreign wars. We all put ourselves in harm's way when the country had a need. We just hope some people might help us now that we have a need."

"If people in Gregg County would send just $5 a household to help the veterans of foreign wars - that would go a long way," Martin said.

The post commander said donations can be sent to VFW Post 4002 at 401 Ambassador Row, Longview, TX 75604, or to an account that has been set up at Texas Bank and Trust. Donations should be made with a note that it is for VFW Post 4002, England said.



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