Like many businesses and organizations over the past year, American Legion Grant Hodge Post 17 in Centralia hasn’t been spared from the financial distress brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
With its business cut in half due to a lower turnout, an affliction that is continuing today, the organization is staying afloat and looking for steadier waters ahead.
"We're keeping our head above water, but we're just barely going," said post adjutant Bob Terrell, who notes they’ve lost at least $30,000 in revenue since the start of the pandemic.
Those better times could be coming soon, though, with word from Gov. Jay Inslee that the state is moving toward fully reopening on June 30, with vaccination efforts continuing.
But as the Centralia American Legion post began bringing its members back to gathering in person, another challenge was presented when one of their HVAC systems went out.
With a possible sweltering summer on the horizon, the post is looking to replace the system in the coming months — but they’ll need help from the community.
Post 17 is currently raising money to replace the system, which cools and heats the building's social area and bar. A GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign has been created to help with the fund, and the post has already raised 10% of its $13,000 goal.
The link to donate can be found online at https://bit.ly/3wIVN7s.
"If we don't have air in here, we're going down for sure,” Michelle Edwards, chief bartender at Post 17, said from inside the post building. “When it's 80 (degrees) out there, it's about 90 up here. It gets really warm.”
Sitting in the social area Thursday, Terrell told The Chronicle that the organization has attempted to secure the funds through grants, including some offered through the state Veterans Affairs Office, but with no success so far. Their effort has been underway for about eight months.
“We’ve spent some money on trying to get it (to) work, but that didn’t do anything,” said Terrell, 89, a retired staff sergeant who served in the United States Air Force and was deployed during the Korean War.
Centralia’s Post 17, established in 1918, bought their building located at 111 Main St. in 1948. Terrell said the old Odd Fellows hall that they reside in was built in 1918, and currently only one of the building’s two HVAC systems is working.
Members and volunteers with the post were preparing for Memorial Day ceremonies this week. Large boxes filled with small American flags were ready to be placed on veterans’ gravestones, and could be seen on a table in one of the social areas, along with some decorated wreaths.
Terrell said American Legion posts are often misunderstood. It’s not just a place for veterans to go to socialize and “tell old war stories,” he said. It’s a place for community-minded individuals and veterans to work on projects for the greater public and a place for veterans to get connected with services and programs — and perhaps have a burger or two.
The pandemic brought with it fears for Post 17’s elderly membership and worries for its livelihood as well.
"Our finances were pretty much used during COVID ... It takes a lot for us to keep this place open," said Terrell, noting the electric and water payments.
"We were kind of really critical of people coming up here for a while because most of our members are at an advanced age, like myself, we didn't want anyone getting COVID," he said. "We've loosened up quite a bit, but we're still being careful with it."
But many members have since been vaccinated against the virus.
During the pandemic, the post remodeled its kitchen and sprinkler systems, a move that was prodded by their insurers.
Post 17 has a total membership of about 500 community members, 331 of those legionnaires. About 85% of those members have renewed their dues so far this renewing season, Terrell said. The local post pockets $12 for every $50 annual due that’s paid.
"Of that 500, alot of them aren't active. They pay their dues and maybe come down here once or twice a year," he said.
But legion dues aren’t the prime revenue generator that keeps the lights on.
Pull-tabs, the popular ticket gambling game, on an annual basis brings in about $150,000 a year, Terrell said, with Post 17 pocketing about 20% of those revenues. Their sale has slowed significantly due to restrictions on bar seating and dining.
"I think everybody is having this problem. You know business isn't what it used to be," he said.
Edwards said a few nights prior she only made $80 all night.
"That barely pays my wage and the lights," she said.
Regardless, as social distancing mandates continue to loosen, Centralia’s American Legion post continues on with business, holding social cook-ins and events with hopes that this winter they’ll be able to celebrate their Christmas events and stocking-stuffer traditions that they’ve hosted in year’s past.
Perhaps, too, breathing in warm, crisp air from a new HVAC system.