One month at a time for VFW whose luck is running out

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Veterans of Foreign Wars Santee Post Commander Jose Marrero is struggling to save the locale so members of the post won’t lose their gathering spot and source of benefits information.

“From a business point of view, I’d give it three to six months. We’re going straight downhill with all the COVID restrictions, to be blunt,” Marrero said.

With no reason to rent out the small gathering hall for non-existent events, no revenue being generated from a shuttered grill and nobody allowed to sit at the canteen to purchase alcoholic drinks, the post is— like many businesses in the area— struggling to pay for utilities and rent while it cannot bring in any income.

However, unlike any other local watering hole, the post is also a source of information for veterans and Marrero said he worries he is at a loss to help members when he can’t even open the door.

“Some posts, like Lakeside, they own the property but we rent our post so we have monthly bills, electricity, insurance and so on. The County keeps changing rules and meanwhile there are veterans who come to us wanting to know how to submit a VA claim, or say ‘I got a decision and I need help with an appeal’. We need to keep the doors open to pass along information from our service officer and that’s impossible right now,” Marrero said.

He is running out of directions to turn as he has sought help at every level of government to little avail.

Locally, he said he asked Santee Mayor John Minto for help “and he mentioned a few business loans but when I looked into them, we fall under different rules as a non-profit”.

A GoFundMe netted about $3,000, “enough to buy ourselves an extra month,” Marrero said but much like a small loan they qualified for in July, it could potentially run dry before COVID-related restrictions are lifted.

At the state level, VFW Commander John G. Lowe, who oversees all of the posts in California, sent a Nov. 5 letter co-signed by leaders from an additional 15 veterans’ organizations to Governor Gavin Newsom asking to reclassify posts so they did not fall under the rules governing bars.

The letter stated “Our veterans are being left behind due to the fact veterans’ posts have been classified as “bars” under the reopening guidelines. Our posts are membership-only buildings… It is our view that our posts are not “bars” as intended in your executive order. Posts provide many essential services for veterans and their dependents and should be allowed to open”.

Marrero said they have not received any response to that letter.

Planning ahead as best as possible, he said a golf tournament held in November when the county was in a less restrictive red tier of COVID measures was successful and he might try to plan a similar event for May, hoping to yield sponsors and advance support.

His gut feeling, he said, tells him that even if the post survives COVID, the bills are still going to be overwhelming as local taxes and bills will still exist and affect recovery efforts for years to come.

The former Aircrewman laughed wryly and said “you know, sometimes you’re losing altitude and you feel that descent — well, our luck is running out.”