Seed money from poppies
BARBOURSVILLE, W.Va. -- After watching Norbert Reif carefully roll tiny, red tissue-thin pieces of paper into artificial poppies, one might think his hands would ache. But they don't.
"It's my arms that hurt," said the 76-year-old veteran, as he showed how he assembles the seven-piece poppy.
He makes all of the paper poppies, more than 20,000 a year, that the American Legion Auxiliary in West Virginia distributes on Veterans Day and Memorial Day as a fundraiser.
Floyd Williams has it a little easier. There are only three pieces to the red plastic poppies he and others assemble by the thousands to ship to the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Reif and Williams live at the West Virginia Home for Veterans in Barboursville. About 10 veterans at the Veterans Home participate in the Buddy Poppy program, which the VFW started 1923 to provide some financial assistance to disabled and needy veterans.
The VFW adopted the poppy as its memorial flower in 1921, shortly after the American Legion adopted the poppy as its official remembrance symbol.
Williams, a 60-year-old Vietnam veteran, said he spends all his free time making the poppies. It keeps his hands busy, and his time occupied. It helps him stay sober.
Williams, a Huntington native, has lived on and off at the Veterans Home for the 20 years he has struggled with alcoholism. "I have 3 1/2 years of sobriety. It's no easy feat," he said.
Reif was in the Air Force from 1958 to 1962, serving in Alaska as part of the ground crew for B-52s. For most of his working life, he was a mechanic and toolmaker on Long Island. He later moved to Elkins. "I had people there," he said. He's lived at the Veterans Home for 12 years.
Reif works solo in his room, cutting out the heart-shaped crepe paper pieces, rolling them into tight cylinders, separating the thin wires of the stem, attaching the parts and gluing the paper tag to the stem. He said he assembles 25 in an hour. He's paid 3 cents per poppy through the Buddy Poppy program.
Williams, on the other hand, is paid $16 per 1,000 poppies. It takes him about eight hours to make 1,000.
"It helps guys who are first time to the home and haven't gotten a check yet. It helps them survive until they get a check," said Williams.
Also, he said the money earned by assembling the flowers isn't counted as income by the Veterans Home.
In turn, they know the money raised by distributing their poppies goes into programs to help veterans.
Paulette Anderson listed some of the programs the American Legion Auxiliary does each year. She is state president of the auxiliary, which she said has 67 units and about 7,900 members in West Virginia.
Last year, members collected and took to their midwinter conference more than 10,000 comfort items. The items range from toothpaste and socks to fishing poles and coffee pots. Staff from the Veterans Home and from each of the four VA hospitals in West Virginia pick out what their residents and patients need.
Every December, the auxiliary has a Christmas gift shop at the four hospitals. The auxiliary buys gifts for hospitalized veterans and their immediate family. "We pick out a gift for the wife, mother or child. We wrap and deliver it, or mail it or take it to their room," Anderson said.
The group also throws monthly "cheer" parties for the veterans at the home and hospitals.
Anderson has been in the auxiliary for 24 years. She used to go with her husband to the Legion Club, where an auxiliary member talked to her about attending a meeting. Within six months, she was deeply involved.
"It's really more than going to a bar. We are for veterans," she said.
The VFW uses the donations from poppy drives to support veterans rehabilitation and service programs and partially supports the VFW National Home for orphans and widows of veterans.
"It's helping them as well as them helping us," Williams said.
Reach Rosalie Earle at email@example.com or 304-348-5115.