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Veterans invited to day of appreciation
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While free food and door prizes may lure many veterans and their families to Saturday’s Veterans Appreciation Day, organizers say their goal is to connect them with services and benefits they may be missing out on.

Veterans and active service members are invited to the appreciation picnic put on by the Disabled American Veterans Chapter No. 17 from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. Saturday at Longwood Park in Gainesville.

Bob Freytag, commander of the local chapter, said people will be available to help veterans fill out Veterans Administration claims and give information about services and benefits.

"That was the gist of this whole thing, to get as many veterans there as we can," Freytag said. "Because a lot of them don’t know the services available and they need assistance and we’re going to provide some of that."

He added that he feels it is very important to reach as many veterans as possible to inform them of the services available.

Many services are provided by the local chapter itself, including help paying utility and doctor bills and transportation to the local Veterans Administration hospital.

"We provide a free van service that goes to the Decatur VA hospital every single day," Freytag said. "We’ve been doing this for 14 years."

He said the van would be at Saturday’s picnic.

In addition to hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken and all the trimmings, the event also will feature appearances by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Rep. Nathan Deal. And Celtic music will provide a festive air from noon until 3 p.m.

Wendy Paradis, a member of the local DAV chapter who is helping organize Saturday’s picnic, said raffle tickets also will be sold for several door prizes, including a diamond tennis bracelet. Tickets are $1 each, or six for $5.

Paradis and Freytag said many local businesses and individuals — some from as far away as Athens — have donated cash, food and other items for Saturday’s picnic.

"We can’t thank the people enough for what we’ve gotten," Paradis said. "Everyone has said they’d be happy to help veterans."

Paradis said the local chapter, which has 440 members, hopes to increase its membership Saturday, too. She explained that members of other DAV chapters who are new to the area also could transfer their membership to the local chapter.

"We’d like to get more membership," she said. "We would like to get disabled veterans to join because there are a lot of things we can help them with."

Though Saturday’s picnic is the first time the chapter has held such an picnic, Freytag said he hopes it becomes an annual event.

Paradis praised Freytag’s work in getting the event organized.

"Bob has just done a marvelous job of getting this together," she said. "He’s worked so hard. He just really wants to help veterans. He really does."

Paradis said the local chapter still will take donations for Saturday’s picnic, but they also have ongoing needs in providing financial help to members.

"If they want to help disabled veterans we will not turn our back on that because that’s a nice thing," she said.