Most every Thursday, volunteers gather in the American Legion Post 432 kitchen and brew up some home cooking for 40 to 65 people. When I visited there this month, the 6 p.m. dinner was a fresh vegetable salad, chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes, gravy and a cheese biscuit. I cleaned my plate. And it looked like the full house of just about any citizen from near or far, cleaned their plates too — and for just $8.
It was Thursday night with American Legion Auxiliary volunteers working to raise funds to benefit San Luis Obispo County veterans, and local children and youths. The Cambria chapter, under the guidance of Shelley Woeste (who has served as president for the last six years), committed to this fundraising effort about 10 years ago. In 2016, the volunteers raised $10,000 through the Thursday night dinners.
That money was distributed to fund local scholarships, help veterans organizations and boost projects for children and youths projects such as the purchase of middle-school library books, and more.
Woeste is a third-generation member of the local Legion. Her mother, Mary Woeste, helmed the kitchen the night I visited, along with Cindy Pierson. Also putting in their volunteer efforts were Ellie Brown, who readied the tables, serving ware and the donated desserts (which you can purchase for just $1), and Judy Schuster, who collected the money.
Diners can also purchase drinks from the bar in the building.
This volunteer team was excited to show off their three-year refurbishing effort “to bring this place into this century,” as Mary Woeste explained. That included new tables and chairs, paint and more. “We’re not done, but it sure looks better,” Woeste said.
The interior updating cost about $7,000 — all donated by members. There are 160 members in the auxiliary.
Pierson welcomes home cooks who would like to volunteer to bring and prepare a family recipe on a Thursday night. Pierson helps take those family recipes and expand them into crowd-sized proportions. You can call Cindy Pierson at 805-203-5628 or email her at cindyk firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about volunteering in the kitchen (which almost lured me in with a beautiful commercial range).
The official mission statement for the local chapter is as follows:
“Our membership consists of women whose sons, husbands, fathers, grandfathers, daughters, mothers and grandmothers have served in the military during war time. We work together in supporting the aims and goals of the American Legion and numerous charitable and cause-worthy organizations by conducting various fundraising campaigns and special events.”
Toys for Tots
Among the local worthy causes is Toys for Tots. The Legion collects the toys with collection barrels found in local banks and at the Fire Department. Legion member Terry Farrell is the local Toys for Tots coordinator. Once the collection effort concludes, auxiliary members distribute the toys locally through requests from Head Start and other agencies that serve disadvantaged families.
“It takes a village,” is a phrase I heard over and over during a recent fundraiser that I co-coordinated. And the efforts by Cambria’s local chapter of the American Legion Auxiliary’s Thursday night dinners, demonstrate how well that phrase applies. Imagine if the women of the local Auxiliary chapter didn’t come together for this effort. Imagine $10,000 less put into our community for the benefit of education, assistance and other such projects.
These dinners are community. While there, I met new people and shared conversation. I’ll return, that’s for sure. And on a busy night, I’ll arrive for a couple of to-go packages.
Shelley added, “We are always looking for new members. Women who have or have had a family member that has served in our military qualify for membership. It costs $25 a year to be a member. Applications are available at the Legion.”
Call Shelley at 805-674-2293 for additional information.
Charmaine Coimbra’s column appears the fourth Thursday of each month and is special to The Cambrian.