Lion June 2013 : Page 22

Lion Lucy Mangabat, whose father and uncles in the Philippines had close ties to the U.S. military, volunteers for the USO at the airport in Philadephia.

Serving Those Who Serve

Elizabeth Blackwell

As a child growing up in the Philippines, Lucy Mangabat heard firsthand about the sacrifices military service can entail. Her father and uncle both worked as civilian employees at Clark Field, the U.S. Air Force base bombed by the Japanese soon after Pearl Harbor. Another uncle, a lieutenant in the United States Army Forces Far East (USAFFE) under the command of General Douglas MacArthur, endured the infamous Bataan Death March along with thousands of other Americans and Filipinos.

Mangabat’s father, who hid his past employment with the Americans after the Japanese invasion, risked his life by sneaking food into Camp O’Donnell, where his brother and other prisoners-of-war were held for the duration of the war. “He would ride there on his bike, and no one knew what he was doing,” says Mangabat.

Mangabat’s father and his brothers survived the war, and in 1976 she moved with her husband, Antonio, to the United States, where they joined the Philadelphia Filipino- American Lions Club in 1986. Now 66 and retired from the U.S. Postal Service, she follows her father’s example by volunteering at the Philadelphia International Airport’s USO Center, Liberty USO.

“It’s a 24/7 operation,” says Mangabat. “There are three shifts, so we have someone there to help all the time. We see to it that everything is in order.” On any given day, Mangabat and her fellow volunteers might be making sandwiches, doing laundry for active-duty service men and women, cleaning bathrooms or simply talking. “I’ve had very good conversations with personnel who served in the Philippines and want to know what it’s like now,” says Mangabat. “They appreciate our work, and some people even give donations before they leave. And we always thank them for their services to the country.”

For Mangabat, appreciation for military service goes hand-in-hand with her work as a Lion. “The key word for me is service,” she says. “I have had that commitment to serve since I was a child.” Her son, who served in the Pennsylvania National Guard, has since joined the same club as his parents. “For us, Lionism really is a family,” she says. Lions have assisted veterans since the first clubs began in 1917, but more and more clubs in recent years have reached out to veterans as ever larger numbers have returned home from Iraq and Afghanistan amid media stories on their needs. Also spurring the service is encouragement by Lions Clubs International (LCI), which began a partnership with the USO in 2011.

“Lions clubs across the U.S. support the USO’s mission to lift the spirits of America’s troops and their families through service, donations, fundraisers and activities,” says Jennifer Pennock, LCI’s manager of government and partnership relations. “Our U.S. clubs volunteer at USO airport locations to support troops traveling to and from service deployments. They host dinners and events for troops and their families. They’ve even hosted wheelchair basketball games. LCI supports our members’ efforts through collaboration with the USO and continues to seek new ways to work together to fortify U.S. military members and their families.”

Roger Chinn, 80, a 45-year member of the Foster City Lions Club and past district governor of District 4-C4 in California, served in the Army Corps of Engineers during the Korean War. Though he went on to a successful career as an architect—and is still called in as a consultant on projects—he has never forgotten that many of his fellow veterans could use a helping hand.

While on a fishing trip about 10 years ago with a fellow Lion, Chinn thought about the vets at a nearby hospital, many of whom lived on-site as they were treated for addiction and mental health issues. Why not take them out fishing? What started as a one-time outing has since grown into four fishing trips a year, which Chinn oversees through Lions Veterans Charities, a nonprofit group that coordinates district-wide volunteer efforts.

“We’re a small charity, but we’ve got 40 clubs to draw from and ask for support,” says Chinn. That network was first tested a few years ago, when recession fears caused Starbucks to stop providing free coffee to local USO centers. Chinn and Lions Veterans Charities stepped up, agreeing to provide 50 pounds a month of coffee to the USO at San Francisco International Airport and USO Travis Air Force Base. “I became close friends with the administrator at the airport, and it turned into a ‘what do you need?’ situation,” says Chinn. His group now buys and delivers $800 to $900 worth of supplies to the airport every two months, everything from instant noodles and beef jerky to fresh fruit and napkins.

Lions Veterans Charities also ships care packages through the Operation USO Care Package program to troops stationed overseas. “We ask our Lions to collect the mini-shampoos and soaps from hotel rooms when they’re traveling, and we try to include those as well,” says Chinn. “It’s very cost-effective.” Not long ago, he received a grateful letter—as well as a check—from a Lion in the district whose two sons, both serving overseas, had received packages from Chinn’s group.

“When President Roosevelt conceived the idea of the USO, it was his intent to provide a way for the American people to directly support their military members, to provide for their welfare and morale,” says Jeff Herndon, director of the USO Bay Area. “The way I see it, the USO today is nothing more than an extension of the American people, a conduit through which they continue to show their appreciation and support for our men and women in uniform and their families.”

For Barbara Bergero, 75, a member of the Foster City club and a former social director at a recreational facility, volunteering at the USO at San Francisco Airport is a way to engage with service members and veterans on a personal level. “Our job is to make them feel welcome and at home,” she says. “For the younger ones, I’m there as a mom. We’ll have large groups come through on their way to a language training school, and when they’re all there at the same time, it can get crazy. You never know what you’re going to get.”

Chatting with veterans and new recruits also takes Bergero back to an earlier, not-so-official stint as a USO volunteer. As a high school student during the Korean War, she and her friends used to lie about their age and sneak into USO dances in San Francisco. “We met young men from all over the country and we danced our feet off,” she remembers. “We had a ball!”

While volunteering at a USO center can be a good fit for Lions who enjoy personal interactions with service members, there are other ways to support the USO that can be easily integrated into regular club activities. Over the past two years, members of the Downtown Columbus Lions Club in Ohio have set up letter-writing tables at meetings and fundraisers to encourage members and guests to send messages to troops.

Past club president Tony Ruberg, 32, came up with the idea after talking to his brother, a Marine who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. “For him, getting a letter was a big deal,” says Ruberg. “He always enjoyed getting something from back home.” When the club held an “Ugly Sweater Contest” fundraiser last December, almost every one of the 100 attendees wrote a letter; the letters were then delivered to the local USO office for mailing.

Ruberg suggests setting up a table stocked with pens and club letterhead and asking everyone to stop off on their way into an event. “It’s a very easy add-on,” says Ruberg. And it is one that can make a real difference in a soldier’s life. “Not all troops have big families, and some get very little mail,” says Ruberg. “We want to them know that they are not forgotten.”

Veterans Form Club

Lions have been long-time volunteers at several veterans’ hospitals in the San Francisco Bay area. Their example has inspired a group of veterans to form the Peninsula Veterans Lions Club, which chartered in May 2012.

The Menlo Park Veterans’ Hospital has offered veterans who suffer from mental and physical challenges a second chance to integrate into civilian life. They can live on-site for up to nine months as they go through recovery programs. During their residency, many of them encounter Lions, who regularly host barbecues and other social events. “They have a huge presence on campus,” says Kevin Guess, the Peninsula Veterans charter president and a former Army military policeman.

Guess, 54, interacted regularly with Lion volunteers while completing a sixmonth program at the Menlo Park hospital in 2006. Since then, working with clubs that sell food at Stanford University football games as concession supervisor, he decided that he wanted to build on the Lions tradition of reaching out to veterans. The Peninsula Veterans club has nearly 30 members, all veterans, including five married couples (Guess’ wife Tamera served as a Humvee mechanic during Operation Desert Storm). “Being Lions and being veterans, we answer the call when there’s a need,” he says.

One of the club’s first initiatives was to buy and deliver move-in baskets for veterans who are leaving residential treatment programs, providing them with basic necessities such as pots and pans, silverware and cleaning supplies. Members also made a commitment to send personalized Christmas cards to hundreds of veterans during the holiday season. “We have a strong core group committed to being a positive force in the veterans’ community,” says Guess. “Vets are a proud group of people. You can’t be too pushy, but if they like what you’re doing, they’ll follow you.”

Help Military Children

Clubs and districts in the United States can promote reading among military children and improve their literacy by supporting the United Through Reading’s Military Program. Through its partnership with United Through Reading®, the USO offers troops stationed at forward operating bases in Afghanistan, ships at sea, or USO locations around the world the opportunity to read a story aloud to their child. Mom’s or Dad’s special story time is recorded on camera, and this priceless DVD and book is mailed home. Children can watch and listen to their parent at bedtime, naptime or anytime. “My girls light up when I put the DVDs on and even try to ‘talk’ to Daddy. Even if for just a few minutes, they have their daddy again,” says a wife of a soldier. For young children, the book and DVD not only encourage reading but also help children remember what a parent looks like during a long deployment.

Lions can make a difference in the lives of military children. Districts or clubs can get involved by organizing a book drive or raising funds. It costs just $9 to provide one book and DVD package to a military child. For information, contact Lisa Ferrari Carter of the USO at 703-740-4938 or

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