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Service, Sacrifice Recognized At ‘Drive-Thru’ Veteran Lunch
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It was a ‘drive thru’ celebration of local veterans on Nov. 11, with veterans getting a lunch and a ‘thank you’ during the event hosted at Infinite Athletics in Oakdale and put on with the help of multiple community volunteers. Virginia Still/The News
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Duke Cooper of Riverbank-based American Veterans First, right, shares a smile and a handshake with Oakdale City Councilwoman Cher Bairos as the two met at the Nov. 11 luncheon for veterans, a ‘drive thru’ event staged in Oakdale. Virginia Still/The Leader

While the last several months of 2020 have not allowed very many gatherings or celebrations, there was an important event observed recently. Wednesday, Nov. 11 was Veteran’s Day and with social distancing and guideline protocols in place, folks in Oakdale as well as Riverbank helped the local veterans have a special day.

Jason Dillon and Infinite Athletics, Inc. joined forces with Oakdale City Council member Cher Bairos to organize the event.

“We are feeding all the veterans for free. We have been doing it for about nine years and this year Cher joined up with us. We want to feed the veterans and show our appreciation for them and help them out,” said Dillon.

The drive-thru style meal was presented to veterans throughout the afternoon in the Infinite Athletics, Inc. Gym in Oakdale. It took several volunteers to help make the event happen. Among the organizations lending a helping hand were Sconza, Rodin Farms, Starbucks, Bloomingcamp Ranch, Grocery Outlet, Modesto Fire Department, Modesto Police Department and more. Among the volunteers were Alyssa Stout, who sang the National Anthem, the American Veterans First organization based in Riverbank presented the colors, with help also from Pastor Henry Raven, the City of Oakdale, Oakdale Police Department, Ashleigh Groom, Mid Cal Blue Star Moms and more.

“I think within the first hour we had everybody, like a hundred people volunteering, so everyone was here to help out. The kids from the schools wrote personalized cards for the veterans. It has been a great turnout,” noted Dillon.

As an additional fundraiser they were selling commemorative T-shirts.

“The shirts have DD214 on them. That is our transcript when we get out of the military,” said Dillon, who spent four years in the US Army. “It is the history of your military career. We made those shirts and we are donating all the money that we make on the shirts back to the wounded veteran’s organization. All the profits will go back to that organization. I was in Korea with military intelligence so we did air surveillance over North Korea. I stayed in Korea a couple years working as a government contractor. It changed my life. I was not the best of kids. I went into the military when I was 18 and I got great training. I figured out what I was going to do in my life. I set goals and the military just really backed me up. I appreciate what they have done for me.”

Bairos also offered her thoughts about the event.

“It is important to us to express our gratitude for them. They, the veterans, have given up so much for us. Their sacrifice should not be forgotten or overlooked,” the council member explained. “We said that we were going to have it no matter what and we had to decide that it was going to be a drive-thru event. Everybody that donated, they gave us amazing donations.”

Ashleigh Groom, an 11-year-old from Oakdale and founder of Project United Through Hope, was in attendance and was handing out small American flags.

“Today we are handing out flags. People are coming out here and we are giving them a free flag. The flag to me represents strength, hope, and unity,” the pre-teen said. “Me and my mom were talking one day and I had this idea about the flag. Since we are in hard times right now, I thought that would help us bring hope into the world.”

When asked what Veteran’s Day meant to her she replied; “I think that it is amazing that people out there put their lives on the line for us to help us and I think it is awesome and think they should be recognized for it.”