Veterans groups giving back during the holidays

Members of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1036 pack bags of Thanksgiving meals on Friday, Nov. 19, 2021, at Beyond the Walls Food Pantry in Fruitland Park.

Local veterans organizations will show their generosity in many ways this holiday season.

Groups such as the Band of Brothers and the The Marine Corps League, Col. Phillip C. DeLong, Detachment 1267 will do everything from Toys for Tots drives to distributing holiday dinners.

These are ways several veterans organizations will volunteer and give back to the community this holiday season.

Villagers for Veterans

The nonprofit and Villages lifestyle club supports injured veterans through various programs. The organization will host a Christmas dinner at 6 p.m. on Dec. 11 at Paradise Regional Recreation Complex to raise money for children of veterans living in the Ocala National Forest. The dinner will include carolers and a silent auction. Items at the silent auction will include homemade wreaths, Christmas trees and festive baskets.

"Our veterans give up so much, and sometimes when they come home the support is not there,” said Marie Bogdonoff, founder of Villagers for Veterans. "It is up to communities like ours in The Villages to take up the mission and help them give their kids presents like every parent wants to give to their kids.”

Purchase tickets at Villagers for Veterans also seeks Christmas trees, decorations and wreaths for the fundraiser. To make a donation contact Bogdonoff by Dec. 1 at or 516-220-5068.

American Legion Post 347

The largest American Legion Post kicked off the season with a Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday at Post 347. The organization will also lay wreaths for Wreaths Across America, a nonprofit dedicated to honoring fallen veterans by coordinating wreath-laying ceremonies at thousands of locations across the United States and abroad. The ceremony will start at noon on Dec. 18 at the Lady Lake Cemetery.

Members will also work with the American Legion Auxiliary Unit 347 to make dinner baskets for Thanksgiving and Christmas to deliver to families. Post 347 also supports Toys for Tots, a program that gives holiday presents to children, and the Sumter County Sheriff's Office's Kids, Cops and Christmas program that also provides gifts to local families.

"We are so fortunate to live in a community like The Villages where we have spendable income,” said Joan Suelter, commander of Post 347. "As a veteran I feel like we've got the time and spendable cash to promote these programs building on (the American Legion's) four pillars.”

Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1036

Members packed dinners for Beyond the Walls Food Pantry in Fruitland Park on Nov. 19 and will do so again Dec. 17.

Mike Race, who is on the board of directors, said they coordinate charitable efforts because those who can financially afford it should give back to the community. He marveled at how much Sumter County has grown because of the generosity of others through various charitable events.

"If you look at what you have personally and then you look at what other people have, if you can give (you should) give,” Race said. "You can't take it with (you), so you make someone else smile.”

Band of Brothers

The organization of more than 600 veterans distributed Thanksgiving meals through Beyond the Walls Food Pantry on Nov. 20. Additionally, the group's Color Guard will participate in the annual Lady Lake Christmas Parade on Dec. 4 held on Old Dixie Highway between Guava Street and Griffin View Drive. The parade will start at 10 a.m.

Band of Brothers will also provide butter, eggs and milk for Christmas meals at Beyond the Walls Food Pantry.

The Marine Corps League, Col. Phillip C. DeLong, Detachment 1267

The group seeks donations for Toys for Tots. Drop off toys at bins in regional recreation complexes and local businesses in The Villages until Dec. 10. In 2020, 55,419 toys were distributed to 17,850 children in Lake and Sumter counties. For more information, visit or call Fred Coenen at 302-668-7559.

Additionally, anyone who could not submit an application to receive toys can visit the distribution warehouse between 8 a.m. and noon on Dec. 18 at 3320 U.S. Highway 27/441 in Fruitland Park for assistance.

Senior writer Rachel Stamford can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5254, or