New Castle News
NEW CASTLE —
You may not be able to wrap yourself in the flag to show your support for local veterans.
But thanks to Sandy Wilder, you’ll probably be able to encircle your wrist in red, white and blue.
Wilder is president of District 25 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary of Pennsylvania. While that job entails performing a variety of duties, the Edinburg resident and member of Bessemer’s VFW Post 267 has been busiest lately with making 1,000 beaded bracelets she is handing out at this year’s Veterans Day Parade in the downtown.
Wilder started making the bracelets — some are wholly red, white and blue beds and some are embellished with beads bearing the letters U, S and A — in 2008, just her second year as a VFW member.
“I made 200 bracelets, and I gave them to all the kids,” she said. “Then the next year it was 400, then 600. Last year, it was 1,000. I’m doing 1,000 again this year.
“The first year I did them, they were just for kids, but now, the adults want them, too. That’s why I make so many. And they stretch.”
Wilder makes the bracelets any time she can, including while watching TV and on long car trips. And they’re not just for the parade. She made 400 for a recent testimonial dinner in Pittsburgh for New Castle’s Ruth Fairchild — who earlier this year became the first female veteran and the first Desert Storm veteran to be named commander of the state VFW department — and she created 200 bracelets and 200 key chains at the request of the national VFW Junior Girls chairman.
“I’m constantly making them,” noted Wilder, who also creates refrigerator magnets and red, white and blue necklaces. “It’s how many do you need for this, how many do you want for that?”
Wilder’s first foray into making bracelets came when her husband was battling cancer. Then, she was making ones bearing the words “Love, Faith and Hope,” and she was providing them to local churches and her husband’s doctor for distribution.
“After he passed, I got involved with the VFW, and that’s when I started doing red, white and blue,” she said.
As busy as that project keeps her, though, it’s not the only thing to occupy the time of the District 25 auxiliary president.
Wilder oversees 15 VFW auxiliaries in Lawrence, Butler and Beaver counties. She inspects them each once a year, making sure “they’re doing what they’re supposed to do.”
Last year, she formed a Junior Girls division of the local VFW auxiliary for girls 5 to 16. Members send care packages to overseas soldiers, volunteer in hospitals and nursing homes, do fundraising and help the VFW and its auxiliary support military service members and their families.
Wilder did all the cooking and oversaw collections of clothing, money and comfort items for the recent Stand Down at Cascade Park, an outreach for veterans in need.
She and her deputy, Rose Aven, also represent the VFW at the Butler Veterans Administration Hospital, where they go once a week to provide items the patients lack.
“People think the government pays for everything; it doesn’t,” Wilder said. “The government doesn’t buy their toiletries, their razors, their shower gel, diabetic socks, T-shirts — and a lot of them don’t have families that can bring them this stuff.
“So that’s what we do. We take this stuff to them.”
Aven recalled one man that she and Wilder encountered who had lost his legs.
“All he wanted was a bar of soap,” she said. “You’d have thought we gave him a million dollars.”
Last Christmas, Aven added, she and Wilder helped out a Wampum veteran’s family, buying gifts for the parents and their four children. Among the items the family needed: drinking glasses.
Aven and Wilder get help from some organizations that hold donation drives, but they also spend much of their own money in the performance of their duties.
“It’s expensive traveling around,” Aven said. “You pay your own expenses. You don’t get paid for it.
“But my mother always said that when you do good for someone, you get repaid in some way or another.”
Wilder learned that first hand.
After receiving the name of a woman who was not going to be able to have a Thanksgiving dinner from the county veterans’ affairs office, Wilder spent $100 of her own funds to buy “everything for a Thanksgiving meal,” and took it to the grateful woman.
“That night, I was going to the Union (Township) Fire Hall, and I stopped off at Get-Go to buy a lottery ticket,” she said. “And I won $100. The $100 I spent on groceries, I ended up getting it back.”
Of course, things don’t always work out that way. But Wilder finds her own reward in helping those who served their country.
“My life is veterans,” she said. “My dad was in World War II, and I think he would be very, very proud of what I’ve accomplished in five years.”