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Legion post fishes for funds Derby veterans count on daily dinners to bail them out of huge debt for new building

A year ago, desperation clung to the air in American Legion Post 928 in Derby.

After the opening of the new building, the post was between $70,000 and $90,000 in debt. Many thought the post was doomed.

But Post 928 remains open, thanks in large part to committed volunteers -- and the humble Friday fish fry.

"This is how we're keeping this place alive," said Laura Taylor, manager of the Legion's bar and banquet services.

Legionnaires and auxiliary members have been waging a daily fight to find the money to pay its bills.

Post 928 hosts lunches and dinners, and will be starting up a regular Sunday breakfast next week.

The fish fry alone won't cure the post's financial ills, but it's a big help, bringing in the most money of any fundraising meal, said Eugene Hackemer, a Legion board member and fish fry volunteer.

"We've only got three employees," Hackemer said. "We're holding our own. We're still making ends meet."

Taylor is one of the few paid staff at the Legion.

Other kitchen staff were let go; their tasks were taken over by good-hearted volunteers.

"These people have never waited on a table in their lives until we started this," she said.

For $7.95, patrons get a large piece of fish, macaroni and potato salads, cole slaw and fries.

And with volunteers serving roughly 250 dinners every Friday night, the American Legion makes up to $2,000 a week this way.

Friday afternoon, Taylor was bracing for a high-demand Good Friday dinner.

It's not uncommon for people to get turned away when things get really busy because of the limited number of volunteers working.

But with all the aggressive fundraising efforts, the Legion is finally treading water, and getting more successful at paying off its monthly debts on time.

Hackemer estimated that the post still has about $50,000 to pay off, and $14,000 to $16,000 in short-term monthly bills. A full accounting is expected soon, he said.

The post also has two mortgages on its new building; members will eventually have to find the money to cover, he said.

"If it wasn't for the [Ladies Auxiliary] and for the volunteers, and the Sons of the Legion," Hackemer said, "we wouldn't be here today."

e-mail: stan@buffnews.com

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