LaGRANGE — Some come in uniform, some in wheelchairs, some are nearly 100 years old. No matter how they come, the LaGrange Elks Lodge each year welcomes more than 500 veterans to its annual Veterans Day luncheon.
“There was a group of us that got to talking one day and said, ‘you know what … we need to do something on Veterans Day for veterans,’ and decided what we’d start doing and started raising money,” said Chuck Franklin, Elks Lodge member. “It’s been a big success. We feed 500 to 600 people each time.”
The free lunch, set this year for 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday at the lodge, 905 S. Davis Road, is open to all veterans, active-duty personnel and their families. The group typically can seat about 140 people at a time, but sees a few hundred cycle through during the three-hour event.
“Over the past five years, approximately 4,100 brave men, women and their families have been served during this event,” said Franklin. “This is the least we can do to show our appreciation to those who have served and are serving in our armed forces so that we can enjoy the freedoms that we have.”
Attendees usually “just have a good time reminiscing” and “telling their war stories” during the lunch, he said. The lodge plays patriotic music during the event, but some attendees make their own entertainment.
“We had this one … a preacher, he’s pushing 100, that plays harmonica,” Franklin recalled. “… He was there last year playing his harmonica. He just got up in the middle of the room and start playing it. (The attendees) really do appreciate it and the chance to get together. … We see a lot of the same faces year after year.”
Typically, the group sees the flux of people come from the downtown Veterans Day service, which lets out about the time the meal starts, Franklin noted.
“It’s a pretty big undertaking,” Franklin said. “… We feel like it’s the least we can do for our veterans who have served and need recognition.”
The meal includes barbecue, stew, baked beans, slaw, bread and chips. The event is hosted by the local lodge with sponsorship by some business and individuals, along with outside volunteers who help prepare and serve the meals.
“We appreciate all the people and businesses that contribute to help with it,” Franklin said. “We couldn’t do it without the help of a whole lot of people.”
Matthew Strother is editor at LaGrange Daily News. He may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2153.