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VFW Auxiliary serves up home cooking to local veterans

by CHUCK BANDEL
Valley Press | March 15, 2023 12:00 AM

It’s the sweet aroma that strikes you first, followed by the sight of busy cooks turning potential chaos into a delightful breakfast.

Picture Thanksgiving morning, when the kitchen is full of busy folks scurrying about in a labor of love, working to produce a meal that evokes childhood memories of Holiday gatherings.

And for those who spent holidays sailing the seas or trudging through jungles or across sandy terrain, it brings to mind thoughts of home and a tasty break from life away from home and loved ones.

It is more than the biscuits and gravy breakfast being readied by members of the VFW Auxiliary in the kitchen at the Plains Hall, it is an act of love and a giant thank you to those who served in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard.

And it is much appreciated.

“This is the best breakfast around,” said veteran Dan Johnson, who was among a steady flow of veterans, their families and non-veterans who filed into the VFW Saturday for a hearty breakfast and some comradery with fellow veterans. “This is more than a meal, it’s also a social gathering, a chance to come and talk with other veterans. A chance to get out and see other folks.”

Johnson’s comments would qualify as music to the ears of the half-dozen or more members of the Auxiliary who gather, usually once a month and begin preparation for the breakfast. Two members begin the process the night before the event, cooking the sausage that produces the sweet juice and chunks of pork that form the gravy, the backbone of the popular meal.

Linda Barnes, an Auxiliary member for the past several years, is generally credited with formulating the idea to “feed the troops” based on work she did years ago while a member of a metal fabrication/construction crew in Alaska.

“I got experience doing this kind of thing when I was cooking breakfast (and other meals) for the workers on the crew I was part of,” Barnes said while stirring a large aluminum pot filled with simmering gravy. “It was a treat and a break for the crew members who worked so hard and it brought us all together”.

The Auxiliary, which currently has 115 members in the Plains area and is open to all who have had a family member who has served in the military, puts on the breakfast as part of its fund-raising efforts to do other things, including meals and their popular Christmas box program.

Auxiliary member Cindy Gray said the breakfast usually draws around 90 people, who pay $9 for a generous helping of made from scratch biscuits, gravy and a large portion of scrambled eggs.

“This is all for them,” Gray said, referring to the veterans who began showing up at 7:30 this past Saturday morning despite snowy roads throughout the area. “We get up early and work hard for the veterans, that’s what it’s all about”.

Plains area veteran Ed Farmer, who served in Vietnam, said the breakfast speaks volumes for the hard work the Auxiliary members put into making it happen.

“There may not be a lot of choices for breakfast in Plains,” Farmer said. “But this is the best breakfast around and it is very much appreciated”.

The cooks all volunteer to make the breakfast, which is possible because of the support the Auxiliary receives from the VFW and the community of Plains.

“It is great how much support we get from the community,” said Auxiliary member Deb Ragan while cracking and preparing the dozens of eggs used in making the meal. “Everyone comes together to support this. Those of us who put the breakfast together have to get up early on a Saturday morning, but no one complains because it is for the Vets. This is one way we can give back to the Vets”.

Gray said more than 15 dozen eggs are used as part of the meal, which usually costs around $300 to put together. She said the local grocery store, McGowan Grocery, has been a big part of the event’s success over the past six years.

“McGowan’s works with us and help us out a lot,” said Gray. “They (McGowan’s) treat us very nicely and help us with the costs involved”.

Gray said the group usually has two similar events per month, and cited the growth and expansion of the Christmas box program, which sends gift boxes with the basic staples and treats to area servicemen and women stationed throughout the country and world”.

“The Christmas box program is one of the main beneficiaries of an event like this,” she said. “That program has grown and with it costs like postage have also increased a lot”.

Becky Powley, who along with Pat Farmer staffed the greeting and pay table inside the hall, said the group does what it can to get the word out about the usually once-a-month breakfasts.

“Facebook is usually a pretty good way to get out the word about the breakfasts,” she said, while posting a notice to entice folks to the breakfast gathering.

Powley echoed the thoughts of her fellow volunteers when asked what motivates the group to put such an event together.

“We do it because we love it,” she said. “It’s for them.”

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Auxiliary member Cindy Gray takes a pan of made from scratch biscuits out of the oven as part of Saturday's monthly Biscuits and Gravy Breakfast at the VFW hall in Plains. (Chuck Bandel/VP-MI)

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Plains area veteran Dan Johnson puts the finishing touches on his biscuits and gravy breakfast during the VFW Auxiliary's monthly biscuits and gravy breakfast Saturday at the Plains VFW. (Chuck Bandel/VP-MI)

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Auxiliary volunteer Deb Ragan breaks some of the more than 15 dozen eggs that go into making the Biscuits and Gravy breakfast Saturday morning at the Plains VFW hall. (Chuck Bandel/VP-MI)

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