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november/december 2008

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In 1999, VVA Chapter 582 in Chico, California, reawakened with five members. After many questions about our mission and how to raise money for operating costs, we slowly organized into a group. Our first car show was the brainchild of Les Orme, the chapter president back then.

We made some money and that was a good start. In September, we had our eighth People’s Choice Car Show. This one was the best so far. It has taken time, though, because we originally knew little about car shows. This year’s show was our biggest money maker, with slightly over $5,000 in profits and with more than ninety vehicles entered.

How did we do it? It was our dedication and help from a core group of people who discovered that creating a show is rewarding. They realized, too, that they could make a significant effort to help local veterans of all wars.

First, we choose a location and check on insurance, which is partially provided by VVA. The theme is always the same: The People’s Choice Car Show is an event in which those who attend vote on the cars and decide the winners. We have ten categories, including motorcycles. That makes it easier. A few people want to have more categories, but we choose to keep it simple. There is no admission charge.

The local Elks Lodge donates the use of its grounds. Of course, they sell the beer, so it’s a winner for them, too. Our resident master woodcarver, Bob Stanley, produces the trophies from scratch. I scrounge the rest of the materials.

We all have specific parts to play. This year, the “tri-tip” sandwiches were a highlight. Chapter 582’s John Herbert is responsible for them, and he and his helpers have done it all for eight years. His sandwiches—and his handlebar mustache—are in the gourmet category.

Some of the factors involved in a successful car show are:

  • Registration and Awards.
  • Food, including sandwiches (we made $1,000).
  • Raffle: It’s the best in town and continues all day.
  • Water and soft drinks (one vendor sold root beer floats: Delicious).
  • Vendors who don’t compete with our sales of shirts, hats, etc.
  • Restrooms.
  • Clean up.

We invite local sheriffs, search and rescue personnel, firefighters, and Red Cross workers in order to bring that world a little closer. We offer space to vendors at low cost. They all made money.

We try to get all of our beverages and food donated. The community is often willing to help. All the donors for our raffle gifts are sent thank-you letters. We always try to acknowledge them in our show program, too. For the first time this year, we sold advertising: Two ads raised a little over $1,000.

We had to advertise on the radio and television, but a local business gave us a great deal on radio spots a few weeks before the show. We sent a press release to the local newspaper and, of course, to all community bulletin boards.

Although I was told the cars were wonderful, I didn’t really get a chance to take a long look at them because there was a lot of action going on behind the scenes. Last year I was the emcee. I didn’t know I was going to do that until someone shoved a mike in my hands and I welcomed people to the show.

We always open with the National Anthem, this year sung by one of our own. At that moment, we face the flag and think about why we are all there.
Every one of these tasks is simple, but when we join together as a team, we take responsibility for each other and for the chapter. It’s a little like being on a mission.

Curiously, a car that never made it to the show won first place. It’s all straightened out now but I still am wondering who picked up that first-place trophy. The guy washed the engine the night before and was pre-registered. But he couldn’t get it started the morning of the show.

So, yes, there are screw-ups every year. We learn by our mistakes, though, and learn to streamline our efforts. Next year’s show will be on September 12. You’re all invited.

With our proceeds we have been able to provide small loans to veterans in need. The loans have always been repaid. We have provided money to help with veterans’ claims and veterans in need. We just passed a resolution that our outreach efforts will include providing heating fuel. Additionally, we are proud to support a VVA-certified Veterans Service Adviser. This year we will “adopt” a few military families and treat them to a better Christmas. This is our community and we are proud to serve. Our car-show fundraiser helps make our contributions possible.

When it’s all over, we treat ourselves to a pizza party at one of the local hangouts. The pizza is great and the chapter is buying (except for beer, of course). No doubt, that party also will be our first planning meeting for the 2009 show.

Just one more thing: This year we took a cue from the VFW’s poppy drive and had our own Black Clover Drive. In three days we raised over $3,000. All it requires is enough people to sit near grocery store entrances, mall entrances, and the ever-present Wal-Mart and chat. We meet lots of nice people. They busily pass by, but most remember to give us their change.

Stephen Wilson can be reached at

National At-large Director Tony Catapano conducted the fundraising seminar at the VVA National Leadership Conference. We asked him to offer advice to VVA chapters and state councils on the fine points of fundraising. Here are his suggestions:

  • Use “Vietnam Veterans of America,” our full name, rather than “VVA,” which most people do not know.
  • Remember to say that we are a non-profit organization and that all donations are tax deductible.
  • Ask a local business to sponsor your fundraiser.
  • At a membership drive table, prominently display your chapter banner to let the public know who you are; call the national office and ask for free handouts, and put out as many as the table will hold.
  • Work in shifts at the fundraising table to keep fresh faces before the public.
  • Wear chapter shirts, jackets, and caps.
  • Put out a donation can and mark it with your chapter logo.
  • Make sure you have membership packages on hand, including copies of The VVA Veteran.
  • Everyone at the table should look clean, and there should be no drinking, eating, reading, or weapons on display.
  • Chapter members should stand up to meet the public. Remember to smile and make eye contact.
  • Have a free item to give away, such as a small American flag lapel pin; give the free stuff to the kids, and the parents or grandparents will follow.

If you have questions or suggestions about chapter fundraising, email Tony Catapano at

Just before Chapter 582’s California Car Show, there was another one much closer to Motor City. On August 23, four VVA Michigan chapters—Ann Arbor Chapter 310, Plymouth Chapter 528, Westland Chapter 387, and Monroe Chapter 142—joined forces with the United Auto Workers Region 1A Veterans and the Motor City Muscle Car Club to put on a huge car show.
Nearly two hundred vintage, restored, and modified vehicles were on display. There were door prizes, trophies, music, auction items, food, and refreshments. VVA 2007 Member of the Year John Kinzinger of Chapter 310 joined Ann Arbor VAMC Director Lou Atkins to present the Best of the Show trophy.

Proceeds from the 2008 Car Show for Vets totaled $25,000. That money was donated to the Ann Arbor VAMC for special patient comfort projects.



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