Thanks to generous community members and a group of Dickinson veterans, the Christmas spirit and joy of giving is on full display inside the Phat Fish Brewing Company.
“I think with the ties that we have with my husband being a veteran himself, we wanted to do something," Kelli Scharf, co-owner of Phat Fish and wife of veteran Tony Scharf, said. "Local veterans, state veterans or national veterans, we always want to support our veterans. Some friends of ours were looking into starting a Veteran Tree and we thought to ourselves, ‘Why don't we do it here at the brewery.’"
Underneath the tree are combat boots with two water troughs jammed full with donations from the community. The variety of donations include every assortment of gift, including detergent, house cleaning products, hats and gloves, gift and gas cards, cash and more.
“The simple day-to-day things that you don't normally think about living without are those things that our veterans often lack,” Amanda Meidinger, wife of veteran D.J. Meidinger, said. “They are not looking for extravagant things just the necessities.”
The outpouring of support for the program serves as both as a sign of the changing times and of Dickinson's community spirit. Having collected such a large amount in only two weeks, Phat Fish Brewing Company were shocked by the support garnered through word-of-mouth and social media.
“Not only have we had local support, but a lot of people with military backgrounds found out about the project over social media and contributed,” Meidiner said. “‘The more the better, I say. As small as the Dickinson community is, the need of veteran support here is large.”
Speaking to the necessity of a program like the one being hosted by Phat Fish, Kelli Scharf said that for many veterans it can be hard to ask for help.
“I don't think anybody gets into the military to have issues down the road. No one asked for PTSD or to get injured, but they went with pride for what they are doing for the country and came home broken,” Kelli Scharf said. “It's very hard when they have been molded into these individuals that need to be strong and prideful, and then to come home and not have the full help that they need… As veterans, as families of veterans and ones that do see it, we take on a sense of ownership of that pain and brokenness… it's veterans helping veterans.”
Tony Scharf echoed the prideful nature of many who need help, but don't seek it.
“They won't ask for help, that's the thing,” Tony Scharf said. “I don't know if the community gets it, but I know other veterans understand it. From my perspective, they feel that they can handle it. They will say to themselves, ‘It's not that bad, I can deal with it.’ For them to ask for help is rare.”
Rather than wait for a plea for help, the Veteran Tree program took the initiative and dove headlong into finding the best approach to helping local veterans.
David and Stephanie Bodle, both veterans, supported the project.
“When you come to a small community like Dickinson, a lot of people don't realizes the people among them that are in need because veterans typically don't ask for help,” David Bodle said “When Amanda and Stephanie asked if I wanted to help decorate the Veteran Tree, I saw it as a blessing and even more so with Phat Fish having the tree where the public can see and admire the support we are collecting for veterans.”
The project managers plan to continue through the first of the new year, though the group of veteran families talked about having similar opportunities for the community to donate year-round.
“We know that the needs from veterans does not end with the holidays and the traditional time of giving. We wanted it to be nice and well decorated for the Christmas season, but it honestly doesn't even come close to representing the amount of respect that we know veteran deserve,” Tony Scharf said. “We plan to have it for many more years to come.”