Erinkelly Connell ‘‘has no words’’ to describe her respect for veterans like her father, so after seeing the decrepit condition of the Medford VFW hall, she became determined to do something about it.
On Sunday, a partial demolition of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2937 marked the first phase of Operation Restore VFW, an initiative Connell and fellow Girl Scout troop leader, Tex Dennerlein, co-founded last month to revitalize the building.
The VFW hall, built in the 1890s, serves as a gathering space for Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion and Knights of Columbus — all veteran-linked organizations. But the deteriorating building faced closure by the end of this year because the groups could not generate ample funds to sustain it.
“These guys are so incredible; they’re just so active in the community,” said Connell, 38, of Medford, who saw the site when the girls in her troop performed there in May. “When you look at how old this building is, it’s not fair. It’s upsetting.”
Sixteen community members and veterans tore apart the walls and floors of the kitchen and lower meeting hall Sunday, giving $5,000 worth of volunteer time, she said. The kitchen, condemned six months ago, had mold and a hole in the floor. The lower meeting hall had dark wood paneling and electric-red chairs from the 1940s.
“None of us had any idea this was going on,” said Dennerlein, 47, of Patchogue. “And when you find out, it’s like, ‘These are guys who fought for us, so we can do all of the things we want. We have to help.’”
So far, Operation Restore VFW has raised $22,000 of its $275,000 goal from groups such as the Medford Hamlet Foundation, and has received free supplies from Home Depot and promotion help from Suffolk Legis. Rob Calarco’s office, Connell said.
While there isn’t a scheduled start date for construction — most contractors they’ve contacted can’t lend a hand until fall — Dennerlein said the main meeting hall will be used during the contracting and construction phases. That room is in better condition than the kitchen and lower meeting hall, he said, and will be revamped down the line.
Operation VFW intends to continue fundraising with coming events such as a comedy show, adult yoga and spaghetti dinner, and hopes to get electricians and other specialists on board to offer their services for free, Connell added.
William Hart, VFW Post 2937 commander, said it means “a whole lot” to members that the community has gotten involved.
VFW vice commander Walter Maresco “would’ve done it all himself if nobody had helped,” he said. For him and others, this community is everything.
“Anybody who is in the military is a friend,” he said. “We’re the friends we never knew we were. It’s brotherhood.”