By Mike Pound
Before I tell you about some great guys who are heading to Joplin, I need to make a correction. This morning’s breakfast for veterans at Eastmorland Elementary School, 1131 S. Highview Ave., will be served after the school assembly, which begins at 8 a.m., not at 7:30 a.m. as I wrote in Thursday’s column.
Now about those guys heading to Joplin.
After Hurricane Sandy, the New York hamlet of Mahopac was without power for eight days, and while the community didn’t suffer the major damage that some other areas did, there is still work to be done there.
So why were Joe Toleno and 10 other members of the town’s American Legion Post 1080 preparing to board a motor home Thursday evening to drive to Joplin?
“We made a commitment,” Joe said when reached by phone Thursday afternoon.
Joe was on his way to the Legion post when I called him Thursday. He said the group planned to leave Mahopac at 8 p.m.
“We’ll drive straight through,” he said. “When we stop for gas, we might get out and pick up a few things, but that’s about it.”
I first heard about Joe shortly after the May 2011 tornado. Howard Spiva told me about him. Howard is the commander of Joplin American Legion Post 13. After the tornado, the Joplin Legion post sent out a plea for donations to assist veterans and their families who were affected by the storm. The Mahopac Legion post responded in a big way, sending a truck loaded with supplies and cash to Joplin.
Joe, who was the commander of the Legion post at the time, said the donation to Joplin was a no-brainer.
“We were sitting one day having a few cocktails, and we saw it (news of the tornado) on TV,” he said. “I looked at the other guys and said, ‘We have to do something for the people out there!’ And the guys said, ‘OK, let’s do it.’”
Joe said the residents of Mahopac donated supplies, and Legion volunteers collected them, boxed them up and sent them to Joplin. He said reaching out to others is something that comes naturally to the Legion.
“We happen to be very fortunate here to have a prosperous (American Legion) post, and we do a lot,” he said. “We help sponsor Boys State, and the Boys & Girls Club, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts. We sponsor two Legion baseball teams. It’s just something we do.”
The Mahopac contingent is coming to Joplin to take in the weekend’s Veterans Day activities. And the members aren’t coming to Joplin empty-handed. Their motor home is packed with supplies that will be used to put on a barbecue at noon Sunday at Memorial Hall for Joplin-area veterans and their families. Joe said he already has ordered hamburger, hot dogs and Italian sausages from Cramer’s Rangeline Meat Co. in Joplin.
Joe said his Legion post was inspired, in part, by the way the Joplin American Legion and everyone else in Joplin responded to the tornado.
“They have become really, really great people to us here,” he said. “We just love them for what they do.”
I don’t know Joe well. I chatted with him for only about 20 minutes on the phone. But I sense that Joe and his buddies are a lot like the folks here in Joplin. Joe said that when the guys get back to Mahopac, they will get to work helping families hit by Hurricane Sandy.
Joe mentioned that he recently was honored in New York for his work on behalf of the American Legion. He said that when he received his award, he mentioned that people talked about his military service in Vietnam and other things in his background.
“But I said, ‘That’s not the issue. The issue is: What have I done lately? What have I done for the community?’” he said.
Yep, I’m thinking the folks in Joplin are going to like the folks from Mahopac.
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