Students at West Shore Middle School have been working for a couple of months on a special dinner to raise money for local veterans.

The students will host a dinner at their school Tuesday, May 13, from 6 to 8 p.m., featuring food from Lasse’s Restaurant. All proceeds will go to the Chaplain’s Relief Fund at the VFW 7788 in Devon, which helps veterans pay bills they might not otherwise be able to pay, according to eighth-grader Tyler Gosbin.

Chaplain’s Relief Fund

The VFW Post 7788 Chaplain’s Relief Fund may be used to help veterans and the families of veterans, according to Greg Smith, former post commander.

“All VFW posts have a Chaplain’s Relief Fund. Commonly, this is where the funds raised from selling our red poppies go,” Smith said.

Over the years the fund has supported many worthy causes.

Smith said that includes helping families with short-term financial needs related to a utility bill, purchasing new tires for a car used to transport veterans to or from VA Hospital appointments, helping to send family members to Arlington National Cemetery for services, and similar uses.

“Members of VFW Post 7788 regularly — at least once a month —  visit patients in the West Haven VA Hospital and Rocky Hill State Veterans Home,” Smith added. “Funds from the Chaplain’s Relief account are also used to pay for snacks, phone cards and small gifts during these visits.”

Remembering ‘Doc’ Donahue

Students in Tom Acri’s seventh period social studies class are in charge of the event, and it’s an event that Acri’s classes have sponsored in the past. This year is special, however, because it is being held in memory of Dr. William Donahue, a prominent Milford veteran who died recently.

Acri’s students have heard their teacher talk about Donahue, and they said they understand that Donahue was quite an inspiration to their teacher.

“Yes, he has a special place in my heart,” Acri said, noting that he expects friends to bring some of Donahue’s items to the dinner for a display of sorts.

Donahue, a long-time Milford resident, served in the U.S. Navy during WWII. He operated aboard the USS Vicksburg as a 3rd class fire control technician, where he and his crew saw action in the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Prior to his retirement, Donahue, affectionately known as ‘Doc’ because of his PhD in psychology, taught electrical engineering in New York.

“A consummate American patriot, Bill never missed a parade or a chance to pass out flags in the center of town or place flags on veteran graves,” according to an obituary notice. “He was a tireless warrior for aging vets for over 20 years. He is credited with helping to set up satellite health care centers in Connecticut and helped to initiate free flag logos for veterans in their notices with the local newspapers.”

Donahue attended the West Shore dinners in the past, but declined letting the students shine any light on him.

At the first school dinner, held at the VFW, Acri went up to Donahue and asked him if he wanted to speak.

“He said ‘No, this is the kids’ night’,” Acri recalled.

Donahue died April 15 at the age of 95.

Helping veterans

The students in Acri’s class said it makes them feel good to be helping the veterans, and they’ve gone all out, thinking up decorations, inviting dignitaries and going to local shops asking for raffle prizes and other donations. Trevor Drinkwine said his aunt works for a beverage company, and she donated 400 boxes of juice to the dinner.

“People who served play a special part in our country,” said student Sean Nelson. “They helped our country and I believe we should treat them more respectfully and with honor. And they shouldn’t be homeless.”

Ryan Craft agreed. He wasn’t sure of statistics, but he said, “There are more homeless veterans than there should be.”

Lindsay Buskey said her uncle served in Desert Storm, and the family worried about him when he was there, so she understands the need to support veterans. Ivy Murphy agreed, saying that it makes the students feel good to be helping veterans in their community.

“It’s nice to help someone you don’t know,” Ivy said.

Buy tickets

Ivy couldn’t pinpoint a dollar figure the students hope to raise at next week’s dinner, but she joked, “A million dollars would be good.”

Tickets are $12; $5 for veterans and students. The dinner will include pasta, meatballs, salad, beverages and student-contributed desserts. Acri said city residents are welcome to donate desserts and raffle prizes.

Students have been busy selling tickets, “mostly to friends and family,” said student Anna Pierce. In the past, the dinner has drawn about 200 people.

The dinner will take place in the school cafeteria; West Shore Middle School is located at 70 Kay Avenue.

For tickets, people can call the school at 203-783-3553. Or they can email Tom Acri at tacri@milforded.org.