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Fundraising underway for new veterans home bus

The Daily Inter Lake - 5/10/2018

May 10--Print Article

Longtime Montana Veterans Home volunteer Dianna Bennett is leading an effort to raise $130,000 for a new wheelchair-accessible bus to serve residents of the Columbia Falls veterans facility.

Bennett said the home's older 12-passenger bus is used to transport veterans home residents to a variety of off-site activities such as shopping, trips to local restaurants, visits to Glacier National Park and other recreational outings. It's heavily used, she noted, citing a total of 66 outings for veterans between June 2017 and January this year.

When the bus broke down last summer, money to get the lift fixed came from a National Guard thrift store in Helena.

Veterans Home Superintendent Joren Underdahl said the bus trouble last year came during the week when the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall was on display in the Flathead Valley.

"We ended up borrowing (a bus) from another nursing home" to get the veterans to the display, he said.

The Whitefish VFW has kickstarted the fundraising for a new bus with a $5,000 donation, and the state VFW auxiliary has contributed $1,000, Bennett said.

"For anything we do, all of the service organizations are all supportive. They really look out for us here," Underdahl said.

Big purchases such as vehicles aren't part of the veterans home's normal operating budget, Underdahl said, so a funding request would need to be submitted for consideration during the next legislative session. Since the bus still runs, and the state budget is so tight, he said he wouldn't submit such a request for one-time funding this time around.

Bennett hopes the public will rally to financially support the purchase of a new bus that would have more space for wheelchairs and easier access for veterans. She's been donating her time at the veterans home since 2006, operating a hospitality cart that provides free snacks and sundries for veterans. The state VFW auxiliary contributes $300 a month to stock her cart.

"Going to the veterans home is amazing," she said. "You get addicted to them. They're so thankful and appreciative; they're very humble."

If the fundraising is successful, Underdahl said the old bus would be kept as a backup and overflow vehicle for outings that require more than one bus. The veterans home has another van that is dedicated to transporting residents to medical appointments.

Donations can be sent to the veterans home's nonprofit organization, the Montana Veterans Home Memorial Foundation, 400 Veterans Way,

Columbia Falls, MT 59912. Please note "For the bus" in the check memo line. For more information call Bennett at 406-270-4504.

Features Editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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