Building off the tradition of the Salvation Army Angel Tree, many other local organizations and businesses have put up their own version of the trees hoping for some holiday help this year, including the American Legion Post 43 Riders.
Set up in the vestibule of Buffalo Wild Wings, the tree seeks community support for veterans currently residing at Morning Pointe.
This is the third year the Post 43 Riders have set up the tree, hoping to help local veterans.
Tullahoma Buffalo Wild Wings Assistant General Manager Starr Hays said the idea came from a regular customer who is affiliated with the Legion Riders.
According to Hays, regular customer and now-friend Geoffrey Liay came up with the idea of helping out area veterans living in Morning Pointe of Tullahoma.
Since he was a good friend to the staff of the sports bar, he asked if he could put up a tree to help those veterans receive some much-needed supplies.
“We chose them because of how receptive they are to us as a group,” Liay said.
The restaurant agreed and the rest is history.
“We’ve been close with Geoff since we’ve opened,” Hays said. “He’s just a good regular that we enjoy being around. He introduced [the tree idea] to us, and we said, ‘Yes please!’”
Liay said Hays and her team’s support is instrumental in pulling off the angel tree drive each year.
“Without their support, none of this would be possible,” he said.
The tree is filled with veteran angels needing some special items this holiday season. All participants need to do is pick up a card and fill their shopping carts with “a few extra items while out shopping,” according to the card.
The recommended items to donate include hats, gloves, lotions, toiletries, socks, blankets, standard and sugar-free candies, activity books and calendars.
There is no minimum amount of things to buy, according to the card, as all donations are welcome.
Once participants have picked up their items for their angels, they need to drop them off at Buffalo Wild Wings and notify a team member of the drop off.
According to the informational card, all the items need to be collected and donated by Sunday, Dec. 15, so the items can be delivered to the assisted living facilities in time for Christmas.
According to Liay, the idea of setting up an angel tree came from a desire to do something for veterans in the winter time.
During the colder months, motorcycle riding and riding-themed fundraisers become less popular. But veterans still have needs no matter the weather, so Liay wanted to see if he could do something to improve Morning Pointe veterans’ stays.
In addition to the physical items listed on the card, Buffalo Wild Wings is also donating monetarily to help Liay and the riders achieve their goals.
“We have raised $364 for him to buy anything that is needed in the rest homes,” Hays said.
Not only is Liay trying to get the word out in the Tullahoma area – he’s also attempting to connect other Buffalo Wild Wings locations in Middle Tennessee to help more veterans in need during the holidays.
According to Hays, Liay has been up in Murfreesboro to “spread the word with other Buffalo Wild Wings and just get more and more with the veterans.”
“The former manager of [Tullahoma] Buffalo Wild Wings is now up in Murfreesboro,” Liay said. Since he’d built a strong relationship with the team here in Tullahoma, he’s hoping that he can spread the idea to other Riders groups and other Buffalo Wild Wings restaurants in Middle Tennessee.
“I can see it being successful somewhere else. We’d like to see it spread to other American Legion Rider Posts,” he said.
Hays added that each year, the restaurant and Liay hope to best the previous year’s total.
“We’re trying to build even more and [raise] more money for him,” she said. “Every year we just try to get better and better at getting [the veterans] more supplies.”
One way the restaurant is helping to raise more money is by a special raffle to be held on the 15th. According to Hays, Shiner Bock beer donated some items, including coolers and a Bluetooth speaker that will be raffled off that Sunday in order to raise more money for the effort.
“All those proceeds go back to those veterans,” Hays said.
While Buffalo Wild Wings is helping the drive monetarily, Liay said community members should focus on the material items. Donating cash-in-hand can get tricky for drives like this, so the goal is to pick up little treats and things for the residents to improve their time at Morning Pointe.
In addition to the items listed on the card, Liay said items such as coffee mugs filled with candies or playing cards, as well as note pads and small desk calendars are popular among the veterans.
For more information on the items to be donated, contact Liay at firstname.lastname@example.org
Erin McCullough may be reached at email@example.com.