American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts are a lifeline for many veterans seeking to socialize and share experiences that can sometimes be difficult for non-veterans to comprehend.

The coronavirus pandemic has closed that important outlet for veterans since mid-March. Activities that help these organizations raise money such as bingo, hall rentals, suppers and even karaoke have left some of them facing financial hardship.

Most groups are cautiously optimistic they can open July 1 when the ban on indoor drinking establishments is scheduled to be lifted in Maine.

Maria Labonte of Auburn paints a “We Support our Troops” mural on the side of the William J. Rogers American Legion Post No. 153 in New Auburn on Thursday. Labonte is a member of the post’s Ladies Auxiliary and volunteered to paint the mural. Labonte’s father, brother and daughter served in the military. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

But Maine Gov. Janet Mills hinted Wednesday that she may extend the ban to keep bars closed. Legion and VFW halls come under that classification.

One hall that will not reopen July 1, ban lifted or not, is Stone-Smart American Legion Post 82 of Norway. They are waiting to see how some of the larger posts in the region handle things.

“We would like to get it open, but we want to see what happens after the first of the month,” Commander Roger Polvinen said.

The post has stayed afloat with help from its auxiliary, which has provided donations the past few months.

“We lost all of our rental business,” Polvinen said. “No bingo income. We’re holding on by the skin of our teeth.”

Reopening would allow the post to recapture some of that lost income by renting the hall to groups and organizations. But the new normal, at least for the short term, would only allow perhaps 40 individuals because of the size of the hall, Polvinen said.

He is uncertain when their popular Monday night bingo will return.

Unlike some other posts, American Legion Post 153 in New Auburn was in good financial shape and was not severely impacted by being closed for more than three months, said Tibby Dupuis, the post’s finance director.

“We were fairly well off so we took the time to revamp the inside of the building,” Dupuis said.

Much of the inside was refurbished — walls were painted, ceiling tiles were repaired or replaced and the floors were buffed. Post 153 even erected a new sign out front.

Dupuis is cautiously optimistic that they can reopen July 1 to serve their nearly 400 members. They are separating the tables, removing stools from the bar and bringing in their bartenders to explain what must be done to follow the new state guidelines.

But their popular karaoke events on weekends will have to wait until the governor lifts her 50-person-maximum order for gatherings.

Steve Simard, left, commander of William J. Rogers American Legion Post No. 153, and Finance Officer Tibby Dupuis have helped with maintenance projects around the New Auburn hall while it has been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “We are looking forward to opening,” Simard said. “We are going to be as safe as possible, especially knowing how many elderly veterans we have here.” Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

In Jay, members of AMVETS Post 33 have performed a lot of cleaning and maintenance in preparation for its opening July 1.

“We’re waiting like everybody else,” said Tammy Paradis, the group’s bookkeeper. “We’ve pulled together, but every day is tough.”

The organization has relied on a small buffer of funds to pay bills. A volunteer crew has sanded down the bar and received $900 worth of epoxy from a veteran-owned company in California.

In Rumford, American Legion Post 24, has relied on donations and offering takeout meals one day per week to help in the short term.

“But we can’t survive on that,” said Patricia Thurston, the post’s commander who was helping out at a food drive for veterans Thursday at the post.

To stay in touch with their 400 members during the pandemic, the Rumford post has used a buddy system to inquire about the condition and needs of its members while the hall was closed.

The group is also planning to reopen July 1, trying to make sure all required changes to the establishment are in place. Community suppers will have to wait a few months since they usually draw more than 50 people.

“Just because our doors are closed, we’re still focused on our mission,” Thurston said.

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