Veterans group facing money challenges asks community for help
A group of local veterans is asking for help from the community to save what’s been a Lea County institution for almost nine decades.
Mark Bowman, past commander and current quartermaster/adjutant for the Blakey VFW Post 3274 in Hobbs has started a GoFundMe campaign to help pull the post out of some financial difficulty.
The problems started about three years ago when Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham mandated closing a host of businesses and entities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We had to shut our doors because of the pandemic,” said Antonio De La Fuente, Post 3274 commander. “Then we got burglarized sometime after we shut the doors in 2020. They ransacked the place.”
In addition to vandalism, going through drawers and cabinets and generally making a mess of the interior of the post, the burglars stole cash and liquor valued in excess of $10,000, Bowman told the News-Sun. Though the post wasn’t open for business, utility and insurance payments and more still came due with no revenue coming in, Bowman said.
On top of that, a mix of an aging membership and accounting deficiencies meant that, for a period of about three years, tax paperwork and other financial paperwork either wasn’t filed or were filed incorrectly. As a result, the post now owes the state about $15,000 in back taxes, resulting in a lien against the group and loss of the post’s liquor license as a private club.
“It’s a crack the post fell into,” De La Fuente said. “Now we’re working to get them fixed.”
Worst-case scenario, Bowman added, is if the state taxes aren’t paid by the end of October, the post could be shut down permanently.
That’s on alongside federal taxes that haven’t been paid, which resulted in the post’s loss of its 501(c)(3) status as a not-for-profit entity, De La Fuente said.
According to the GoFundMe page, the post hopes to raise $50,000 to get itself out of its financial difficulties. As of mid-day Tuesday, Bowman said, the fundraiser has garnered about $2,500 in donations. Just $50 has come from the GoFundMe, according to the fundraiser page at https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-keep-vfw-post-3274-open-in-hobbs-nm.
The canteen at the post, which is the private club and lounge area, brings in between $1,000 and $1,500 per seek. Out of that the post pays utilities and other routine expenses, including purchasing liquor and other canteen supplies, Bowman said. Other, larger posts such as Roswell and Carlsbad are in better financial situations because they offer gambling in their clubs, he said. Hobbs doesn’t offer its patrons that option.
“It’s just an uphill battle,” Bowman said.
And De La Fuente was working Tuesday to secure a loan to help cover the tax bills, Bowman said. Part of the proceeds of the fundraiser would go to reimburse De La Fuente for that loan.
Blakey VFW Post 3274 is also looking at other ways to raise money while increasing its involvement with non-veterans in the community, Bowman and De La Fuente said. At 6:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 27, the post will host a Halloween-themed “Scaraoke” event. All are invited to attend, De La Fuente said.
“And we’re planning to start hosting more karaoke on Fridays going forward,” De La Fuente said. “If people want to give donations they can.”
Other events, not necessarily fundraisers, include a celebration of the anniversary of the U.S. Marine Corps being established in 1775, scheduled for Nov. 10. The next day, Nov. 11, the post will host its regular Veterans Day observance and parade.
“We’re going to do what we can,” De La Fuente said. “We’re doing hall rentals to the public and we already have some (holiday) parties scheduled for different businesses.”
Plans are also in the works to bring back the cold-weather warming station started in the public area of the post building on Alto Street in Hobbs. Started last year during a late-November cold snap, the area’s homeless population or anybody who was in danger from the cold was welcomed to warm up at the post, Bowman and De La Fuente said.
Another feature the post offers is free hall rental for area families to accommodate funeral receptions, regardless of their veteran status, they said.
“There’s a lot of things we’re trying to utilize our hall for,” Bowman said. “A lot of people think the VFW is just a bar.”
But the VFW is much more, De La Fuente said. It provides a “one-stop-shop” for information and access for veteran’s benefit, Veteran’s Administration medical services and more. Members can provide rides to medical appointments with a couple of days’ notice, De La Fuente said, and can help veterans get in touch with veteran’s services officers.
“They come in and if they need assistance, we ask what kind of help they need,” he said. “If veterans need help applying for disability we’ll work with them, for example.
“Our doors are always open tin any veteran within the communities. We’re not just Lea County, people come from Carlsbad, from Artesia – we can help them with whatever their needs are.”
The post is also home to an active chapter of the VFW Auxiliary, Bowman said.
Anyone wishing to donate to the VFW fundraiser may call Bowman at 307-390-6245.