Sailors from NAS Fallon and other volunteers package Thanksgiving meals for delivery to the area’s senior citizens.
Photo by Steve Ranson.
Before the sun peeked over the Stillwater Range east of Fallon, Lance McNeil and his volunteers at American Legion Post 16 were busily preparing food for Thanksgiving.
Their mission on Thursday was two-fold. Prepare, cook, package and deliver meals for the county’s senior citizens who depend on Meals on Wheels, and then serve a free Thanksgiving meal to those who needed or others who wanted to share camaraderie and a story.
For as long as anyone can remember, the local American Legion post along with volunteers — both military and civilian — has performed its outreach program to help the William N. Pennington Life Center take care of the community’s elderly population.
A02 Arin Felton, who arrived in Fallon in October from Twenty-Nine Palms, Calif., prepares to deliver meals.
“We’ve been holding steady with about 125 seniors,” said McNeil, who helps organize the volunteers and delivery of meals. “I love to do this. To me, it’s a big-hearted thing for this post. I have a great crew who find a way to give back.”
Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, the volunteers wheel into action to help the seniors and others. McNeil said it’s not difficult to find volunteers from the community or from Naval Air Station Fallon. Every year a small contingent of aviation ordnance men and women volunteers as do sailors from other commands.
“This is a way for them to help out the older veterans,” said Joe Nash, who was a lieutenant in aviation ordnance until he retired.
Nash said volunteering at the post helps the AOs earn recognition for what they do in the community.
“This is part of their service and outreach,” Nash added.
Cal Martin, left, and Paul Valentin assist with preparing the Thanksgiving meal.
Rusti and Mike Hall have volunteered for the past four years. Mike Hall served in the Navy for 10 years, while his wife is chaplain of American Legion Posts 16’s auxiliary
“Why not? It’s a good thing to do,” Hall responded when asked why he volunteers. “I work on base (as a civilian) and I see the younger vets. They do a lot of good things.
Volunteers Eileen Montgomery, left, and Michelle Diedrichsen cut pumpkin pies into slices.
Without the volunteers, Rusti Hall said the seniors would not be receiving a dinner on Thanksgiving or Christmas.
“The Legion is providing meals to everybody,” she said. “The vets give back to this community. They do a lot for many different people. We’re here to make everyone’s life better.”
Linda Rupert has been with the cooking crew since 2002. In 20 years, she has missed only one year. In 2012, her husband died near the Thanksgiving holiday. Rupert understands the needs of the community’s senior citizens and how lonely they are.
Amber Lewis, right, and her little helper August Riddle fill cups with cranberry sauce.
“During my first year, I helped deliver the meals. I went to a lady’s house and sat down with her and talked,” Rupert said. “So many people are in need in this town, and there are so may lonely people.”
Alex Riddle has been preparing meals for seven years and said he will continue to do so.
“It gives me the opportunity to give back,” Riddle said. “It’s what brings me here every year.”
Longtime volunteer and U.S. Air Force veteran Lance McNeil, left, and Army veteran Don Wolf take a break.
Paul “Pip” Valentin served in the Marine Corps for 12 years and has lived in Fallon for five years. With his family in Florida and Puerto Rico, he said the American Legion post in Fallon became his home.
Linda Rupert oversees the behind-the-scenes cooking.
“We are a town and community that sticks together during the rough times,” Valentin said.
AO1 Newman Johnson has volunteered before on Thanksgiving. With his extended family in Kentucky, he remains in Fallon to lend a helping hand.
“The Navy encourages outreach and to give back to the community,” he added.
Tina Glushenko, left, and Dave Santos have volunteered on Thanksgiving for years.
Michelle Baysinger, left, and Velva Abels place meals into paper bags for delivery.
Paul “Pip” Valentin, right, loads turkey into a container held by Rusti Hall.