Many, many years ago, small town life wasn’t viewed positively. Around the turn of the century, meaning the 20th Century, cities were all the rage. The phrase “it’s hard to go back to the farm once you’ve been to gay Paree” summarized the thoughts of the day, and many people couldn’t wait to trade their farms for the hustle and bustle that surrounded those bright, ever-burning lights. Cities offered tremendous numbers of jobs, and with industry came wealth. Excitement was seemingly nonstop, and choices ranged from restaurants of all flavors to entertainment of all types. City life seemed so romantically interesting that generations of people traded fields cut by dirt roads for asphalt streets lined by buildings.
The hustle and bustle is interesting for sure, but many of us prefer the intimacy found in small-town life. In small towns across our country, we know our neighbors and stop for a chat when we pass them on the street. Odds are high that we even say hello to strangers we meet. We leave our houses with front doors unlocked, and if we look for our car keys, they are probably in the ignition. People in small towns take care of their own, especially when they are struggling.
It’s that way in Canandaigua, New York, a small, upstate town in the Finger Lakes Region, which is a popular spot for fishing, hunting, and vineyards. Canandaigua is equally well known for the Blue Star Canteen, run by the Blue Star Mothers of America New York Chapter #1. Here, volunteers focus their attention on serving those who have served. Veterans from all wars are welcome—especially on Wednesday, when free dinners are served.
Mama knows best—she always has and always will—and the Canteen is staffed by volunteers, many of whom have had fathers, husbands, sons, and now daughters serve in the branches of our military. These ladies care for returning veterans, all of whom have dedicated their lives to taking care of our country.
Some of them, like Laura Evans, get involved for other reasons. Laura’s son is an active duty Marine. While he is not yet a veteran, she understands that, God willing, he will be someday.
“It’s a way for me to give thanks and to support our troops,” she said. “I’m the newest member of our Blue Star Mothers chapter, but many of the ladies who founded our chapter in 2004 continue to work here. Linda Green and Jean Burlingame are going strong at thirteen years of service, and Annie Wido, Joyce Mader, and Bobbie Metcalfe recently celebrated their tenth anniversary.
“2017 marks the seventy-fifth year of our national organization, and ours is the last surviving operational canteen in the U.S. providing assistance to servicemen and women and their families. We’re pretty darn proud of our legacy, which is a driving reason I became involved.”
What is equally inspiring is that the Blue Star Mothers do more than just provide delicious meals.
“Our visiting veterans suffer from just about anything you could imagine, including Agent Orange poisoning, PTSD, substance abuse, and homelessness,” said Evans. “Many arrive to us in wheelchairs, bicycles, or by foot. A warm dinner, conversation, and a hug are always given! If our vets need clothing, shoes, or personal items when they arrive at our door, we send them off with what they need.
“Coats and boots are in high demand during this time of year. We’re now preparing our Christmas boxes that we send to deployed troops all over the world. The boxes include Christmas trees with all the decorating fixings, as well as cookies, coffee, and other tastes of ‘home.’ We also have seventy-five local families that we help take care of during the holidays with food and gifts.”
Many veterans are sportsmen, too. As a result, The Blue Star Mothers organize outings and events around fishing, shooting, and hunting. One event they sponsor is a fun fundraiser for civilians and retired military alike. Their Fundraiser at the Ontario Rod and Gun Club is an annual event that unites the entire community. Food for the body, nourishment for the soul, theirs is a total approach towards health.
Because of the time and expense, the Blue Star Canteen is funded strictly by donations. The Canteen serves more than 5,000 meals per year. With increased donations, additional clothing, shoes, and furniture will be given to vets in need. These creative and hardworking ladies are always looking for other ways to help where they can. If you’d care to make a donation this holiday season, please visit their website.
Sure it’s fun to live in a digital world where we have an information super highway at our finger tips. We can learn about anything at nearly any time and any where, and mainstream and niche media is conveyed at blistering speeds. That’s how I found out about the Blue Star Mother’s of Canandaigua, New York Chapter #1. And when I did I wanted to slow things down to the pace in which I grew up and live today. I like it better that way. Maybe you do as well.
On this Veterans Day we extend our appreciation to our veterans of every war. Thank you for your service.