A spirited crowd of nearly 200 runners and walkers converged on Baldwin Park last week united in their support of veterans. Assemblyman Brian Curran, a dedicated advocate of veterans’ causes, hosted his annual 5K Run For Heroes, inviting residents of the communities in his 21st District to take part.
The event’s overarching mission was to raise funds for organizations including the American Legion posts in Freeport, Baldwin, Lynbrook, Malverne and Rockville Centre as well as the East Rockaway and Lynbrook chapters of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. As the event’s slogan, “Don’t stand with our veterans, run for them!” echoed through the park, Curran explained his longstanding commitment to veterans’ issues.
“Veterans have always been a purpose for me,” he said. “You can never appreciate all of the service and sacrifice that they did.”
Curran is the father of a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, which, he said, has reinforced his understanding of the paramount importance of caring for veterans. He emphasized the need for local communities to provide havens where veterans can gather, enjoy one another’s company and find solace. The fundraising 5K, he said, is playing a role in ensuring the vitality of those posts.
“Back in 2010, when I got elected, a lot of the veteran posts in the district were saying how they used to get an influx of grant money and full federal and state money to help keep their doors open,” Curran said. “All of these posts have the very same expenses, such as electric, plumbing, maintenance, and they weren’t able to keep up with it.”
Three area veterans’ posts have shuttered since 2010 due to financial problems. In 2011, Curran created the Run For Heroes to generate funding for these essential community resources. In addition to sponsorships, runners’ entry fees collected for the Run For Heroes are passed along to the participating posts.
David Cockerel, the adjutant for Freeport’s William Clinton Story American Legion Post 342, stressed the importance of supporting veterans and the role of community events like Run For Heroes in doing so, as the number of war veterans steadily declines.
“Community veterans right now are dwindling,” Cockerel said. “During the Vietnam War, 8.7 percent of the population were veterans. Today, 1 percent of Americans are veterans.”
He highlighted the evolving challenges faced by veterans of recent conflicts, such as those in Afghanistan and Iraq, and emphasized the need for support from both the state and federal government. Cockerel urged community members to donate to local American Legion and VFW posts, explaining that members of these organizations not only assist veterans in need, but also take part in community events and are dedicated volunteers.
“The states are a little behind in assisting the federal government in improving the compensation and medical support that these veterans require, especially in recent years,” Cockerel said. “Challenges still persist that the community can really help us out with.”
Curran acknowledged that some veterans’ facilities, like those in Lynbrook, have fared better than others, and that vets in smaller communities, such as East Rockaway and Baldwin, face more significant challenges. But the 5K, he said, ensures that every participating post receives some financial support.
Curran also expressed his gratitude to Vanta, one of the event’s primary sponsors, for providing food to fuel the participants’ — and the spectating veterans’ — spirits.
“We have fun doing this event,” Curran said, “and the veterans really appreciate it.”
In addition to Run For Heroes, Curran encouraged people to support veterans year-round by taking part in Stand Downs, one- to three-day events in which volunteers provide homeless veterans with food, shelter, clothing, and health screenings. He also urged his constituents to be vocal advocates for veterans, emphasizing the urgency of addressing the shocking rates of homelessness among those who have served their country.
“The percentage of veterans that are homeless is astounding and horrific at the same time, that somebody who served this country is out on the street,” Curran said. “So there are a lot of different ways that people can help our veterans and service members, and this run is just one of those ways.”