As the nation marks its annual observance of Flag Day, the Erie County Clerk's Office and the county's auto bureaus are launching the sale of flag-themed cards that will raise much-needed funds for local veteran posts and halls.
Two years ago, when he was a member of the New York State Assembly, Michael Kearns collaborated with the American Institute of Architects to survey several local veteran posts. The objective was to determine what capital improvements were most needed and how much they would cost.
Two years later, sitting in his Erie County Clerk office, Kearns told WBFO the objective of this card sale is to raise funds to get those capital improvements completed. The flag cards will be available for one dollar per card. An image of Old Glory will dominate the face while there will also be some space for the donor to write his or her name.
"The AIA, they put together a list. They've identified the top four priorities for each of the posts," said Kearns. "The corporation that was formed, the Post Restoration Corporation (of Erie County) they've identified what they're going to do with the money," he said.
Topping the list of needs among the 20 participating posts is bringing the facilities into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Many of the buildings simply aren't adequately handicap-accessible, Kearns said. Many lack wi-fi. Some have parking lots in disrepair.
The halls remain important fixtures in the community, Kearns insisted. He agreed, though, that each post struggles to grow its membership because, in part, they face the stereotype by others in the community that they're the "old men's bar." Younger generations of veterans and their families, he said, should be encouraged to use the spaces as a place to let veterans talk with and listen to other veterans, to find services that could help the veterans and their families.
Kearns adds that the posts are usually available to the community for festive occasions, but only a few realize that. Some in the community may look to the halls as for the veterans but not for the general public. Some posts, Kearns noted, find ways to be available as an important venue for use in times of disaster.
"If we take the Matthew Glab Post in Lackawanna, they have a partnership with the school system," he explained. "As we know, we live in different times. God forbid, if there was a shooting at the school, they would use that as an emergency place for the students to go to in an instance of that situation."
The estimated cost of fixing up the 20 participating posts is $8 million. Kearns says the not-for-profit Post Restoration Corporation is finding other funding sources beyond the card sale.
"This is just the beginning," he said. "They're going to be looking to secure grant money from foundations, from corporations."