Local bikers revved up to help Manna Soup Kitchen, where 75 percent of regular visitors are military veterans

Laste modified: Monday, November 11, 2013
NORTHAMPTON — Whatever you do, don’t call the American Legion Riders of Post 28 in Northampton a “biker gang.” Though owning a motorcycle is a must for all members, their shared passion for riding takes a backseat to their primary purpose of helping fellow veterans in need.

Easthampton resident George Demsick, president and co-founder of the group’s Northampton chapter, has been working to assist his fellow veterans and others in need within the community for 10 years. Before the founding of the Northampton chapter five years ago, he worked out of Easthampton. The group organizes fundraisers, collects donations, and devises other ways to help.

About five months ago, Demsick and the Northampton Legion riders began working with the Manna Soup Kitchen which operates out of the Edwards Church at 297 Main St., Northampton.

While polishing a veterans’ memorial statue in front of the McDonalds on King Street, Demsick met Northampton resident Bob Saalfrank, program director and longtime cook for Manna Soup Kitchen. During the conversation, Saalfrank, 65, related Manna’s recent struggles with meeting the needs of the people the kitchen serves.

While Saalfrank continues to receive donations of donuts and sandwiches from 7-11, pastries and breads from Stop and Shop and Big Y, and produce from the River Valley Co-Op, the soup kitchen has struggled to stock enough meat for the kitchen’s needs.

When Demsick discovered that as many as 75 percent of Manna’s regular visitors are veterans, he decided to take action. He teamed up with his fellow Northampton bikers to raise money to buy meats for the kitchen. Over the past five months, the group has collected donations from other American Legion Rider posts as far away as New Bedford, and contributed from their own pockets to provide hamburger, chicken and other meats to the kitchen.

Demsick said Big E’s Supermarket at 11 Union St. in Easthampton has been instrumental in helping the ALR, donating or selling meats to the group at cost.

Demsick said the motivation behind group’s efforts to help is simple. “My guys, and gals (we have women members as well), don’t think, whether you’re a veteran or not, you should be hungry in the street,” he said. “We’ll do what we can do to make sure it doesn’t happen.”

Demsick is currently seeking somebody to donate a cow or pig to the shelter to provide meat for the patrons. The group has donated non-food items as well, including hats, scarves and gloves.

“They’ve really stepped up and done a lot,” says Saalfrank, “and they’re well appreciated. If it weren’t for George, I don’t think we would have been able to keep up.”

Saalfrank, a veteran himself, has volunteered at the kitchen since 1986. He began his work there after being a patron. Wanting to give back to the organization that had helped him, Saalfrank began to assist in cleaning up. “I started putting away tables and chairs, mopping and sweeping floors,” he said.

When the volunteer position of coordinator became available, Saalfrank applied and was accepted. When the former cook died three years later, Saalfrank assumed those duties. “I’m doing what I can do to pay them back,” he said.

The soup kitchen serves three meals a week on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday.