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Veterans in nursing homes on Danville American Legion's Christmas list

Daily Item - 12/16/2019

Dec. 16--DANVILLE -- Danville American Legion Post 40 members have been visiting veterans in area nursing homes for more than 50 years to hand out Christmas presents. The names and faces have changed, and so have the gifts.

On Sunday, about 20 members of the Legion, its auxiliary and Sons of American Legion Squadron 40 visited a total of 50 veterans at Grandview, Vintage Knolls, Emmanuel Center and Maria Joseph Manor in Mahoning Township.

"We used to make cookies," said Jane VonBlohn, of the auxiliary. "Then everybody became diabetic and (giving out cookies) was a no-no."

VonBlohn, one of the organizers of the annual gift-giving, said the Legion then gave each $10 to put toward their accounts, but some lost the money.

Then the Legion started handing out a shoebox with toiletries such as deodorant. Now the members hand out gift bags that include a military calendar, a puzzle book, a pen, body wash and deodorant, diabetic socks and a Legion hat and T-shirt. The Legion also has included a commemorative "challenge coin" marking the Legion's 100th anniversary this year.

Post member Mike Hughes said the challenge coin goes back to World War I. He and other members explained that they are to carry the challenge coins with them. Anyone who doesn't have it at the post home gets to buy a round of drinks.

As it did last year, the 198th Army Band, a jazz combo out of Rochester, New York, entertained. Three of the four combo members are from Rochester and the fourth traveled from Connecticut, Army Reservist Sgt. Jessica Milewski, a Danville resident and Post 40 member, said as the band played Christmas tunes at Grandview Nursing & Rehabilitation.

VonBlohn, who said the Legion's practice of giving gifts to veterans in nursing homes dates back to the 1950s, said there never used to be women veterans in the nursing home. That has changed over the years, and the Legion adjusted by giving the women toiletries and other gifts more appropriate for them, such as slipper socks instead of a hat.

She said the number of gifts handed out has decreased to the current 50.

"We started out with 75, but they're dying off," VonBlohn said.

She was grateful for the other members.

"I couldn't do it without them," she said.

"We're making sure every veteran is taken care of and let them know they are not forgotten, they're still a part of the military family," said Post Commander Brian Sosnoskie. "It's up to us to continue this tradition."

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