Written by Debbie Calcote, Red Cross Disaster Program Manager, Stanislaus/Tuolumne Counties
For the past 7 years, volunteers and I have attended the San Joaquin National Cemetery Memorial in Santa Nella.
Today marked the 7th year of this tradition. I know it doesn’t seem like much to some, but this morning I was watching all the volunteers and I remembered when this venture first began. I was a volunteer at the time. I would work for weeks planning and gathering supplies for us to provide refreshments for those in attendance. We didn’t have as many resources then, so it was often a struggle to get supplies. But we were all happy to go out and ask for such a great event.
I remember getting up at the early hour of 4 AM to go down to the office and make the 100 cup pot of coffee so we could leave the office and make that convoy of an hour drive out to the cemetery. We were all so proud to be doing this!
We would rush to get set up and ready to go by the time the veteran’s and their families began to arrive. I remember years when it was freezing cold with high winds and watching everyone shuffle around bringing coffee to people to help keep them warm. I remember years with pouring down rain and running to help move chairs and get people out of the rain, bringing them coffee and providing hot cocoa for the young kids. And I remember years of temperatures close to triple digits, trying to keep everyone hydrated and trying to make lots of shaded areas for them to go to for some relief.
For the first three years it was the same group of about 10 of us. We didn’t mind, it was an honor to be asked to serve those who had served for us in the military and for the families who had lost loved ones.
But for the past few years, what has amazed me, is that most of this same group continue to attend! Sadly, we have lost a few of these volunteers, with one even having been laid to rest at the cemetery. We also have volunteers who have family members there now so, when this day comes, we all take a moment to say hello and thank them for their sacrifice.
What is so beautiful, which I was able to see today, was how this same group of volunteers committed to honoring our veterans every year, gathered once again and with them they brought new volunteers to share in this great honor.
Today, a singer from the local community was on hand to sing the national anthem and the PA system went out just as she was singing. Without hesitation, the crowd chimed in to help sing, and when I looked around I watched my wonderful volunteers – some standing together, some standing alone – join in that wonderful chorus that came out of the audience and they were singing with pride!
I have never felt so proud or blessed to be a part of such a wonderful giving organization that nurtures and teaches their volunteers but most of all learns from them as well. We are truly grateful to have them. To know them, to stand beside them.