SPOTSWOOD, NJ - The American Legion Post #253 hosts Friday night Fish Fry's throughout Lent. Catholics typically avoid eating meat on Fridays during the season of Lent. The Fish Fry is a popular fundraiser that many folks take advantage of, either eating in or phoning ahead and taking out. However, yesterday's weekly evening meal took on a slightly different flavor as the American Legion's Ladies Auxiliary entertained some very special guests.

Fifteen residents from the Menlo Park Veterans Home in Edison were invited for dinner courtesy of the organization. The Menlo Park Veterans Home provides a residence as well as care for veterans, their spouses and Gold Star parents.

For Arlene Baum, the Secretary and Treasurer of the American Legion Ladies Auxiliary Post #253, the endeavor is a labor of love as well as a family affair. Baum's husband, Bill, is the Commander of the post, so he was of course on hand assisting veterans as they disembarked from their buses as well as helping wherever he was needed. Her two grown daughters also took time off from their Friday evening to stop by an give a hand.

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"They've done so much for us," Baum said of the veterans. "It's the least we can do."

Baum explained that the Ladies Auxiliary hosts events for residents of the Menlo Park Veterans Home throughout the year including the Fish Fry, an annual holiday party, a spring event, which this year will be a Spring Fling, as well as two summer-themed activities designed to get the vets outside to enjoy the warm weather.

Last summer, Crystal Habib, the Junior Vice-President who is also in charge of fundraising, organized an outing to a Somerset Patriots Game.

Tables were set for the night's special guests as the ladies waited for their arrival that was late due to traffic and bus difficulties. The home's larger bus is in need of repair, but the residence lacks the funding to fix it. Residents arrived in two smaller transports, one of which was purchased through fundraising efforts by the American Legion.

Each table was set with a tablecloth and welcoming decorations. The veterans "get it all" from a complete four-course dinner on china to dessert with coffee or tea.

Baum explained that they always use the china when the veterans visit since it gives them an extra special touch. She commented about being moved to tears by a past participant of an event that thanked her for that small touch. He remarked how much he enjoyed not having to eat a meal on paper plates.

Visitors from the Menlo Park Veterans Home past and present definitely appreciate those small touches the Ladies Auxiliary takes the time to give. Menlo Park Veteran Home resident Roy Bredt spoke highly of the ladies as well as the events held at the American Legion Post #253.

"I love it here," Bredt said with a twinkle in his eye. "The people are friendly. The food is always good and the people bend over backwards to help you, even more than necessary."

Bredt explained that each month at the residence, the residents are asked to pick three activities to sign up for. He said that he always makes sure to choose any event held at the Spotswood American Legion Post #253.

"When I see it, I pick it," Bredt added with a grin. "I like the atmosphere."

In addition to speading sunshine and cheer to residents at the Menlo Park Veterans Home, the Ladies Auxiliary also offers a helping hand to active soldiers as well, putting together care packages througout the year for men and women from the area serving in the military.

Residents interested in contributing to the care packages can donate non-perishable foods, toiletries and other much-appreciated items like books, DVD's, batteries and magazines.

A drop box is located at the American Legion Post #253 on Devoe Avenue and is available on weekdays from 3 p.m. until 10 p.m. to drop off donations as well as on weekends from noon until 10 p.m. Interested residents can also telephone 732-991-9507 to arrange a pick up.