Coffee for Veterans - An expanded story from Auxiliary Magazine

  • (November 2013 issue)

    Coffee for Veterans is alive and well at American Legion Auxiliary Unit 159 in Bryan, Texas. Started in 2009 by Marilyn Wyatt, the program was modeled after a coffee group honoring veterans sponsored by a private citizen in Conroe, Texas. The idea was to invite any veteran and his/her family members to come and enjoy fellowship over coffee and donuts. Marilyn, a mother of a veteran, was determined to honor local veterans for their service by starting a coffee group in Bryan. As a member of the Auxiliary, she was able to bring the idea to the Legion and gain support for using the Legion Hall and having the program adopted by the Auxiliary. Since its inception, the coffee club has continued to grow with more than 70 veterans and family members attending regularly.

    So, what exactly happens at Coffee for Veterans? It is a very laid-back opportunity for veterans, members of Sons of The American Legion, and Auxiliary members to come together and share fun, fellowship and stories. Originally held in the club room of the Legion hall, it has now grown so large that it was moved into the great hall. People sign in, pick up their mugs and help themselves. Everyone is given an opportunity to purchase a white ceramic coffee mug with their name inscribed on it, or there are disposable cups available at no charge. If someone chooses to purchase a cup, a name is written on it, and it is kept at the Legion where it is washed and ready for use each week. Coffee is available in “high test” or decaffeinated, and donuts are provided. Many times, homemade baked goods are also shared.

    While we were in the club room, it would get very crowded as our numbers grew, yet there was a constant flow between tables as people came and went or veterans joined other friends. Now that we are in the great hall, it is not quite as crowded, but people still move around to visit with new and old friends. Recently, a local assisted living center began bringing their veteran residents. All newcomers are welcomed, introduced and quickly absorbed into the crowd and peppered with questions like “Who’d you serve with?” and “What branch of service were you in?” As Don (US Navy, 1964-1967) reports, “Today is Thursday; Thursday is my favorite day of the week. The American Legion has free coffee and donuts today. I look forward to Thursdays as I can see all my friends. There are no strangers here – just friends I have not talked to yet.”

    Coffee for Veterans is a service provided by American Legion Auxiliary Unit 159. The Auxiliary provides coffee and donuts while members of the Auxiliary, who are referred to as “Donut Dollies,” manage the great hall. The term Donut Dolly originates from the Korean/Vietnam War eras. During the Korean War, workers staffed American Red Cross clubs throughout the country to provide morale boosts to servicemembers and local communities. The Red Cross took a different tack during Vietnam and developed a program that sent hundreds of young female college graduates to conduct audience participation recreation programs for the men serving in combat zones. While their official title was Supplemental Recreational Activities Overseas Aide, they were given the nickname Donut Dollies. There are several websites that provide excellent pictorial histories of the Donut Dollies, and a short historical video has been produced and can be viewed at www.recallmedia.com/akadonutdolliesvideo.html. As an additional service, the Auxiliary has established a lending library during coffee time. A large cart was purchased, and the veterans brought in books from their homes to stock it. The books come and go, and participants are always checking out the new finds.

    American Legion Auxiliary Unit 159 Donut Dollies can be seen each Thursday wearing aprons appropriately covered in donut or coffee motifs as they make the coffee, circulate the room with refill pots, and, according to one veteran, “spoil us rotten.” On each veteran’s birthday, he/she is honored with a candle in his/her donut and a rousing (and usually off-key) rendition of “Happy Birthday!” On Nov. 9, 2012, Earnestine Hanks, Irene Porter, Maggie McGuire and Ginny Cooper were honored by Bryan Mayor Jason Bienski with a proclamation honoring their service as Unit 159 Donut Dollies.

    As an added benefit, Arthur Betties, Veteran Service Officer, is available at the coffee each week to help any veteran who needs questions answered or problems solved with Veterans Affairs (VA). Congressman Flores also attends when he is in town but always sends James Edge as his representative to address any needs or concerns. Steve Garcia from the Workforce Commission is also in attendance to make sure that any veteran interested in a job has the tools and support necessary.

    So, if you are ever in Bryan, Texas, on a Thursday between 8 and 10 a.m., come on in and join us for a cup of coffee.

    Story submitted by Maggie McGuire, Unit 159 member.
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