SEASIDE — When community members started trickling slowly in for Christmas dinner at the Seaside American Legion Post 99, they passed a table filled with knitted hats and fleece gloves.
“How much?” one person asked. “Are these for me?” another inquired.
Behind the table fielding the questions was Marilyn Falker, a longtime member of the American Legion Auxiliary service group. To fight dropping temperatures, fellow volunteers knitted a variety of hats for free. Earlier Saturday morning, she swung by a thrift store and bought the pile of gloves to accompany them.
“Take whatever makes you smile,” she said.
Each year, the Legion hosts a Christmas dinner, where volunteers serve hot plates of turkey and potatoes, all free and open to anyone who walks through the doors.
While the primary focus of the Legion is to serve veterans, on days like this their goal is to help whoever needs it, events coordinator Bud Thompson said.
It’s a goal the Legion keeps in mind throughout the year, even after the holiday lights are taken down and Christmas music recedes from the radio airwaves. Falker is a volunteer who has made the goal a lifestyle.
When she’s not handing out hats and gloves, she’s judiciously restocking and checking the charity box the Legion maintains for the homeless with items like toothpaste, deodorant and coupons. About four times a year, she crochets lap robes for veterans.
The auxiliary’s goal is to work on overcoming the hurdle of how to let those in need know that these resources are available to them, she said.
“It’s about choice, empowering people to take what they need,” Falker said. “But we have a hard time knowing how many veterans are around who need this help.”
Falker’s passion for the Legion started about 20 years ago after her husband, an Army veteran, died suddenly. She went all over town to different churches and groups, looking for a sense of community.
With her husband’s service as a connection, she found her home at the Legion.
“This is the place that said ‘you can give what you have,’” Falker said. “Reaching out to other people whose story we don’t know is so important. We’re blessed to be able to give, whether it’s a smile or some yarn.”
Her volunteer work has continued to be an outlet. Between the loss of her husband and acting as a full-time caretaker for her two disabled sons, the work she does is as much a benefit to herself as it is to the community it serves, she said.
“This is my escape,” she said, running over to open a door for an outgoing dinner guest.
“When you help, you just stop thinking about the things you’re going through, because 99 percent of the time, you know what? They’re not that bad.”