Struggling veterans charity runs into difficulty returning cans collected in fundraiser

From left, Veterans Serving Veterans volunteers Justice Geer and Mia Geer toss bags of cans into the pile that was amassed Tuesday during a fundraising event at the park.

CADILLAC — At their darkest moments, the organizers of the Veterans Serving Veterans park have discovered that someone is looking after them.

Roger Bandeen, founder of the park located north of Cadillac on 41 Road, said like many charitable organizations, they've been struggling lately.

In the months since the coronavirus reached Michigan, Bandeen said a number of grants and fundraising events have fallen through. He estimates that they've lost close to $150,000 as result of these disruptions.

"We're doing everything we can to keep the lights on," Bandeen said. "All this has sure made it hard for charities."

While it's been tough, Bandeen said they've been able to keep the park open, along with their food pantry for veterans, which is needed now more than ever.

"We were typically seeing around 20 veterans (during the food distribution days every two weeks)," Bandeen said. "A few weeks ago, that went up to 39. I would say we're seeing a 25-30% increase overall."

One item they haven't been able keep on the shelves is processed ground beef, which they used to send home with each veteran but now can't provide.

Bandeen said they've been blessed by generous donations, however, including fresh produce provided by the Seventh Day Adventist Church, along with financial contributions provided by the Cadillac Area Community Foundation and Cadillac Renewable Energy.

"Every time we don't think we'll be able to support a project, our prayers have been answered," Bandeen said. "We'll continue as long as we can thanks to the good graces of the community."

Those good graces were demonstrated earlier this week, when the Veterans Serving Veterans park hosted a can drive to raise money for services and programming.

Bandeen said the can drive was a huge success, producing a massive pile that he estimated around noon to be worth at least $2,000 — and the day wasn't even over yet.

"I couldn't believe it," Bandeen said. "We had a steady flow all day long."

Everything was going great until it can time to cash out the cans.

Bandeen said he contacted the Cadillac Meijer store to ask them if they could bring in all the cans at a time separate from the regular customers so they didn't disrupt the store's operations.

They were told this wouldn't be possible, and when volunteers attempted to bring cans to the store during regular hours, they were told they couldn't accept more than $25 per individual.

Obviously, this created an obstacle for organizers: they had a behemoth pile of cans and no efficient way of turning it into cash.

Meijer external communications manager Joe Hirschmugl said once the store reaches the maximum amount of cans (which is set by UBCR, the agency that manages pickup for the state), they can’t take any more returns that day until UBCR picks up the cans/bottles from the store.

As for the $25 limit on cans brought in by individuals per day, that is dictated by the Michigan Deposit Law.

With the deluge of bottles and cans flooding into return centers following months of stockpiling during the statewide shutdown, Hirschmugl said can drive fundraisers may not be a good idea right now.

Despite the difficulties, Bandeen said they planned to keep bringing the cans back to return centers and cashing them out as long as they could each day until they were gone.

Amidst the confusion and stress caused by the unexpected bottle return snafu, Bandeen said someone dropped by the park and handed them a check for $1,000.

"Our prayers were answered again," said Bandeen, who is hoping more good fortune will allow them to complete the park's 5K trail this year.

Bandeen said in order to finish the trail, they require use of their tractor, which is out of commission right now because of an issue with the front-end. He said they ordered new parts some time back but still haven't received them because of delays associated with the viral pandemic.

He said they also hoped to have the maintenance building and picnic pavilion up and running by now but those projects have been delayed, as well. He said they still hope to have the structural steel frame of the maintenance building up by the next month or two. 

Cadillac News