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VFW rallies the troops

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — The Grover King VFW may need to muster more troops to man all stations for the 42nd Labor Day Gun Show and Flea Market this year.

Commander and flea market Manager Bill Davis has put out the call for all Post 1115 members and even non-members to sign up for flea market detail.

Davis has scheduled a planning meeting for Aug. 11 at 5 p.m. regarding the Sept. 4- 7 event that will no doubt draw tens of thousands and possibly hundreds of thousands of visitors to Hillsville.

Important decisions about paid help and other flea market matters will be shared at the meeting. Davis said that a lot of cooperation and input is needed to resolve staffing and other issues.

A large number of the membership became Veterans of Foreign Wars for their service in World War II, Davis told The Gazette. Many of those members are now in their 80s or 90s.

“At one time, this post was over 1,600 members, and we’re down to approximately 930 members,” the commander said.

Last year alone, the VFW lost 60 members who died, and the post only recruited 21 in the same period.

Post members will step up recruiting efforts this year, Davis says.

“One of the biggest things ... most of this post is World War II, and they’re in their 80s,” the commander said. “And most folks in the military now aren’t necessarily coming back here to live.”

Those who join the service see that the employment situation in the Twin Counties is grim and base their decision to return on that. “They see there’s no work.”

That’s also led to members moving out of the area to find work, Davis believes. The move means that those members will drop out of the post and transfer to their local one.

Those who are able to work at the flea market might have conflicts with their jobs, Davis said. All this has left the post with an expected shortage of workers for the flea market.

Hosting about 600 vendors and 57,000 individuals, as the post did for the past flea market, requires a lot of work, Davis said.

“It’s going to be a challenge this year to man all the gates,” the commander said. “It’s reached a point we have to get paid help for events like this.”

The post also hires kitchen workers, because kitchens are open and serve food 12 hours a day.

Davis won’t know how much outside help is required until the planning meeting.

Even as its labor pool shrinks, the VFW has decided to take on more tasks. This year, for example, was the first time it opened for the Memorial Day weekend flea market.

That didn’t turn out as a great success for the VFW, but Davis attributes it to a lack of advertising. Post members will inform vendors during Labor Day about participating in the next Memorial Day market.

“I think we’ll do a whole lot better next year,” he said. “A lot of our vendors I’ve talked to said, ‘If we knew you’d be open we’d certainly have been here.”

Some challenges are to be expected to put on an event as big as the flea market.

The Grover King post has a super group of members who help out, and it also receives assistance from the Junior ROTC, Davis said.

But the post members, most of whom are older than 65, are slowing down. “Years ago when we were in our heyday, they were young,” Davis noted. “People just can’t come out and stand in the sun like they used to.”