Guest blog by Department of Vermont President Corrinna Colson
As an American Legion Auxiliary member, have you ever wished you had just a little more money to improve your programs and provide more for your veterans, or streamline your process, to make it more cost effective so you could do more? Do people in your community know who the American Legion Auxiliary is, what we do as an organization, or why we matter? These were the thoughts and questions many members of the ALA Department of Vermont had about our annual Veterans Gift Giving event.
The ALA-sponsored event is held at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Vermont Veterans Home and run by ALA volunteers who provide donations of money and gifts to be displayed for veterans and their families to shop for free. This event, one that’s executed by many ALA units nationwide, ensures that our veterans can have gifts for their families and themselves regardless of their ability to pay. For some veterans and many volunteers, this event is overwhelming and captures their heart.
For the Department of Vermont, though this event is one of the most uplifting, it is not without expense. The gifts need to be transported to the event locations, which previously was accomplished by renting a U-Haul truck or utilizing multiple personal vehicles. This meant more money had to be spent on transport, and less gifts could be purchased. In addition, as ALA volunteers unloaded the totes of gifts, there was no way to know it was the Auxiliary who was hosting this incredible event for our veterans.
That’s when the American Legion Auxiliary Foundation’s Mission in Action grant was discovered, and the Department of Vermont learned the grant could be used to purchase an ALA branded trailer to transport gifts, as well as items for other ALA programs such as ALA Green Mountain Girls State. The possibilities were endless as members realized all the amazing opportunities a branded trailer could provide if we received the grant. From gift-giving events to food drives, it would allow us to serve more veterans while showing our ALA pride.
Since we were in the middle of COVID–19 restrictions, we began researching the process, and after getting over the anxiety of applying for the grant, we dove in. What did we have to lose? If we were chosen, we would receive money from the ALA Foundation to support our project – as long as we could come up with 20% of the total cost of the purchase. That means 80% of the cost would be covered, and we knew we could fundraise for our portion!
The application was simple, even for someone unfamiliar with grant writing. Our first step was to gather quotes for a trailer. Utilizing a local company helped us find the best price.
Next, we found a graphics company that would take on our design once it was approved by ALA National Headquarters. We chose another local company that was already involved with producing T-shirts for us at cost. They were a new Vermont company and eager to give us a deal.
The third step included finding out the cost of registration and insurance for the new trailer.
Once we had all of this information, we completed the application and sent it to the ALA Foundation. We managed to submit our application by the deadline, with the hopes that it would be approved, purchased, and ready to use by our first Veterans Gift Giving event, only a few short weeks away.
To our surprise, we received a call within days from the ALA Foundation asking clarifying questions about our application for the review committee.
Within a week, we had an approval to purchase a cargo trailer that would mean so much to help not only brand our Auxiliary events, but provide an economic way to work our ALA mission. After sending our W-9 form and signing the grant agreement, we received our check the next week. We were all so excited.
With the funds now available to purchase this trailer, we were disappointed to find that COVID-19 had slowed production and caused prices to skyrocket – so our local store could not honor the original quote. It would have been months for our order to be processed, and at a higher price than originally budgeted.
A call to the ALA Foundation gave us permission to shop around and find something comparable with the grant money we had received. After several near misses to purchase another one, we were finally able to place an order with a different local dealer. Our trailer arrived in just three weeks.
The following week, we were able to have the graphics added, and we are now the proud owners of an ALA branded trailer to work our Auxiliary mission of serving veterans, military, and their families. Our ALA Girls State logo will be added later once the new design is approved.
While the process of acquiring the trailer was delayed by COVID-19, and we did not make our deadline to use the trailer for our veterans holiday events this year, plans are in the works for a food drive competition by our ALA district presidents to replenish statewide food pantries depleted by the holidays.
The Department of Vermont is grateful to have been approved for the ALA Foundation Mission in Action grant and would like to encourage other Auxiliary members to check out these opportunities and apply for grants to secure additional funds to improve services they provide while working the ALA mission. The grant process is easy, and ALA Foundation members are always willing to assist. You never know what you can accomplish for our veterans with a little extra help!
To learn more about the grant opportunities offered by the American Legion Auxiliary Foundation, visit www.ALAFoundation.org/grants. To donate and increase the amount of funding the ALA Foundation has to provide grants to ALA entities, click on the donate button at the top of the website page.