A new campaign launched by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) shines a spotlight on the personal stories of veterans who give back to their local communities.
VFW’s #StillServing campaign showcases veterans who find ways to volunteer, stay connected and help those in need. Launched in February of 2020, the volunteer campaign has grown and strengthened in light of the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
VFW National Commander William “Doc” Schmitz said of the grassroots effort, “It represents the heart of the VFW.”
Making masks in Tampa
“I was compelled to act because I’m a combat Marine and we don’t stand around. When something unexpected shows up, I go do what needs to be done,” said retired Lance Cpl. Tom Gregg, a Tampa Bay resident and owner of a yacht fabrication shop.
When Gregg saw that the need for masks in his local area was greater than the supply available, he quickly reconfigured Ocean Life Upholstery, his marine upholstery shop, to begin making masks.
“There was no PPE anywhere, and everyone started to get worried. So that’s when we started designing and building based on what was available, so we didn’t bog down the supply chain any further.”
To date, Ocean Life Upholstery has created and given away over 7,000 masks. He and his team are currently creating face shields for deaf and hard of hearing children to give away at schools.
PPE for everyone in Pepperell, Massachusetts
Meagan Murphy, an Army veteran, recently joined her local VFW chapter because she needed to find a place where people understood her language. After joining, she found that her involvement and interest in looking for ways to enrich her community grew.
“My time in the Army as an MP directly helped prepare me to answer the call of my community,” Murphy said.
Murphy’s father receives dialysis treatments and, concerned that the healthcare workers at his clinic didn’t have enough PPE, she and a friend decided to create a mask-sewing group. Their goals have been to bridge the gap between what was needed and what was available.
“I saw a need, and that’s something we’re taught from the beginning. It goes right back to the Army values – loyalty to community and selfless service,” Murphy remarked.
The Facebook group that Murphy started quickly grew from just a few people in her local area in Massachusetts. Soon, requests from as far away as New Hampshire came in to the group. In addition to requests from hospitals and nursing homes, Murphy’s group also made masks for service members stationed in Okinawa, Japan.
The group has produced over 7,000 masks, more than 1,400 ear savers and almost 1,000 face shields. As her local school district prepares to return to school in the fall, Murphy, a substitute teacher, is collecting and creating to supply the school district with whatever they might need.
“Anyone who needs a mask will get one for free,” she said. “That way, students can focus on learning rather than needing or wanting one.”
On the front lines in Italy
Scott Powell knows what it means to serve. After completing four years in the Army, Powell transitioned to civilian life to orient his career as an engineer to help those less fortunate.
“I deployed to Bosnia, and I’d seen poverty, but that was a country trapped in a cycle that they may never escape. I wanted to orient my career toward water and wastewater treatment in the developing world,” Powell said.
And that’s precisely what he did. After taking a full-time position with Samaritan’s Purse, a nondenominational Christian relief organization, Powell has been finding ways to give back globally ever since. He has found himself on the frontlines of some very severe natural disasters, including the Philippines after the 2013 typhoon, the 2016 EU refugee crisis and, most recently, on the front lines in Cremona, Italy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Lombardi region of Italy was one the worst hit in the country and all of Europe. Because the hospital in Cremona was overwhelmed, nurses and doctors had to triage patients in some of the same ways they did during WWII. In addition to rationing medical supplies, healthcare workers had to make difficult decisions about who would survive in order to prioritize resources available.
“We’ve been running field hospitals in various capacities around the world for the last couple of decades, so in some ways, I was prepared for this current crisis. But in other ways, I wasn’t. Here, we’re dealing with an air virus versus something like Ebola, which is transmitted through touch. So, it’s scarier.”
Before Powell’s father died in June 2019, the retired Army lieutenant colonel gifted Scott with a lifetime membership to the VFW.
“The #StillServing campaign is so very well titled. I learned in the Army what it means to serve, and that has followed me everywhere since then. It’s prepared me for the rest of my career and has oriented my career toward serving others in the most desperate times. My dad instilled in me that as well, and even when he was suffering from cancer, he told me to always commit to serve. I know that he felt very strongly about the VFW and being involved with them. I’m so grateful to my dad for setting that example,” Powell said.
A life of service
According to a 2018 report from the National and Community Service organization, veterans volunteer 25% more time than civilians and are 17% more likely to make a monetary donation to non-profit organizations.
The VFW’s #StillServing campaign underscores the fact that veterans continue a life of service. It brings to light to how their ongoing contributions continue to make the country and world a better place. All veterans are encouraged to share their stories and show how they answer the call to serve.Read comments