ST. ALBANS, Vt. - Some VFW Posts in Vermont are struggling with declining membership and participation. Their future is unclear, commanders say.
Edward Lavilletta has been a VFW member since his family signed him up while he was serving in Vietnam.
"[It] means a lot. It's been my life,” said Lavilletta. “I think the camaraderie is one of the big things - being around people that understand you."
Now, after nearly a half a century as a VFW member, he’s post commander in St. Albans.
The veteran of foreign war is crunching numbers.
“Our bread and butter is renting out the building for parties and dances and whatever and if we can't afford insurance to cover them, we can't have them,” said Lavilletta, the commander of VFW Post 758.
Lavilletta says insurance costs up to $10,000 a year. Annual VFW membership cost $35.
Post 758 has 265 members.
“Which is not really good, we should be a lot more,” said Lavilletta. “Throwing money at us is not always the answer either. If you don't have the people working, all you're doing is getting a band aid. You coming in and working with the program and giving me an idea, and have resolve for that idea, now we're doing something."
Lavilletta says younger veterans, including those from Desert Storm and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, aren’t as interested in joining their local VFW as were past generations.
“This is a monument in the community and they're about to lose it,” said Lavilletta. “There was a lot of sweat and a lot of tears that put this thing together. If we don't start getting more money, we don't pay the bills then we're going to have to shut the doors and what comes after that, who knows."
The VFW provides community service. It’s a liaison for veterans services and a lobbyist for veterans’ rights in Washington.
Between April 2016 - April 2017, VFW members donated $187,725 to the community, according to the Vermont VFW Commander Charles Magnant.
It’s more than just a local canteen.
Membership statewide dropped by half since 2000, according to Magnant.
“What we're trying to do is make our post more family-oriented, doing more things geared towards the family,” he said. "We are not just full of the old guys sitting around smoking and drinking beer.”
“I think it don't look good for the VFW,” said Andy Lesage, Commander of Post 1767 in Winooski.
Lesage posted a sign “Veterans Needed” on the front of the Main Street facing building a few years ago when he noticed membership was dwindling.
He says leadership roles that will soon be open need to be filled.
“If we don't have that x-amount of people then we ain't going to be here and to be honest with you, it don't look good for us right now,” he said.
Commander Lavilletta is hoping an upcoming fundraiser will spark some excitement for the VFW.
The VFW is hosting a motorcycle ride and benefit Saturday, September 2 at 11:30 at the VFW at 353 Lake Road.
Tickets are $25. There will be a BBQ after the ride, a 50/50 raffle and silent auction.
You can get tickets at the VFW Post 758, The Wooden Nickel and 14th Star Brewing.
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