St. Nick and his Navy helpers don their holiday apparel for two months to give Churchill County seniors a brighter Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Volunteers from Naval Air Station Fallon and American Legion Post 16 combine their resources and willingness to serve the community during two of the country’s most important holidays.
After the American Legion cooks prepare the turkey with all the trimmings and mashed potatoes, sailors and other helpers walk down the chow line, loading their Styrofoam containers with food and preparing them for delivery to the county’s seniors who rely on the Meals on Wheels program. More than 100 seniors receive meals, which are delivered in both Fallon and the county by the volunteers.
Lance McNeil, former post commandant and one of the main organizers of the Thanksgiving and Christmas deliveries, appreciates the military’s support.
“They help us tremendously, but five years ago we had trouble getting volunteers,” McNeil said. “Then an AO (aviation ordnanceman) joined the post, and we told him we needed volunteers.”
Since that time the American Legion receives a good response each holiday season from NAS Fallon.
“Other organizations at the base have also helped, but this is one of AO’s major projects, Thanksgiving and Christmas,” McNeil added.
AO1 Chico Martinez said it’s not difficult to spend about an hour on a holiday morning helping those not as fortunate as the sailors who assemble early in the morning at the American Legion hall.
“The senior guys volunteer our services, and we bring the younger sailors to help. We’re establishing a community service,” Martinez said.
Many sailors find themselves hundreds — if not thousands — of miles away from family during the holidays.
Being away during Christmas tends to be difficult for sailors who can’t go home.
“Many of our younger guys are away from their family for the first time,” said Martinez, who has been helping the American Legion for three years. “It does us good. It makes us a more humble person, and we inspire the younger generation with a different perspective.”
Originally from Houston, Martinez said he returns home every other year for Christmas, but he also has his own family here in Fallon.
A02 Robert West surveyed the hall on Thanksgiving morning and was proud to see more volunteers helping this year. He expects the same on Christmas morning when the meals will be prepared for delivery.
“This is something we have been doing every year, and we keep going,” West said.
The Fallon sailor agrees with Martinez that it is important to help the community. Sailors who volunteer from the Association of Aviation Orndance chapter 21 also help with other community activities such as serving food and washing dishes at Daily Bread, a program that serves dinners to needy people; laying wreaths on the veterans’ graves at the Northern Nevada Veterans Cemetery in Fernley; and participating in Relay for Life fundraisers.
“We find ways to give back to the community,” said West, who hails from San Diego. “A lot of single sailors get out to help and meet the people.”
In January, A02 Ray Bosley ships out from NAS Fallon, but the memories of helping people in the community will be etched in his mind for years to come.
Bosley said volunteering is the right thing to do.
“To me, it’s more than volunteering. It’s helping to make a better life,” he pointed out, adding that serving others less fortunate is important.
Bosley grew up in a small town where people struggled, especially during the holidays, but he never had the opportunity to volunteer.
AZ2 Melissa Bates, who has been in Fallon for one year, said Navy volunteers do their part for the community. Since she has her own children, Bates said it is more difficult to travel home for the holidays.
LaRae Sibley, whose husband retired from the Navy, is the ladies’ auxiliary president. She has served meals for two years.
“This is so awesome,” she said of the volunteers and how they support the community. “The sailors get the kudos they need, and this also lets the people (those who receive the meals) know they’re here.”