Local veterans honored at Burlington Masonic Lodge on Nov. 12

This was the lodge’s second annual Take a Veteran to Lunch Day

Burlington Masonic Lodge №32 held its second annual Take a Veteran to Lunch Day on Saturday, Nov. 12. Roughly 120 veterans and family members attended this event — a huge step from last year’s attendance of 75.

“It went excellently. We had good turnout and everybody was thrilled with it,” organizing committee chairman Robert Shulman said. “We had a very good response.”

Tickets to the event were $20, and all proceeds went to Habitat for Humanity Veterans Build, an initiative that provides employment and homeownership to U.S. veterans, military service members and their families.

It was Shulman’s idea to start the event last year, and it has been a huge success. Shulman realized that while the lodge is very charitable, it had no events specific to helping veterans. He wanted to change that.

“What we want to show as Masons is we appreciate what the veterans have provided for our nation and the freedoms and the opportunities that we have in this country today,” Shulman said. “We understand the value that the veterans bring to our community.”

Shulman wants to continue to donate all proceeds to local charities to preserve the intimacy of the event.

“I want to make sure it’s something that the community can really relate to,” Shulman said.

The luncheon featured multiple guest speakers, including Mayor Brian Carlin and Navy SEAL Ryan Peters. A family who recently accepted a Habitat for Humanity home in Cinnaminson was also present and spoke about their positive experience with the organization and how thankful they are.

Attendees were amazed at the presentation by Peters that included what he went through to become a SEAL. Peters, who has long been involved with Habitat for Humanity Veterans Build, saw multiple combat deployments to both Afghanistan and Iraq and is a lieutenant commander in the Naval Reserve assigned to SEAL Team 18.

“The stories that they told, especially the Navy SEAL — I was so impressed,” U.S. Air Force veteran Beth Hastings said.

U.S. Army veteran Dave Torres says Peters’ presentation was very emotional and powerful for him and brought him back to what he went through in the Army.

Burlington Masonic Lodge Worshipful Master and U.S. Navy veteran Tim Richardson also spoke very highly of the luncheon.

“It was fantastic. The cooperation that we got from the agencies that were involved and the way that our guys stepped up — it was just exceptional,” Richardson said. “To be able to be a part of such a worthy cause that benefits our veterans was amazing.”

Richardson also said he believes holding events such as these in the community is so important because many veterans aren’t getting the attention and care they need. He added that veterans are never looking for a handout — they’re always willing to work and do what they need to do to survive and thrive.

“Being a veteran, it just means that much more to you. You’re helping a brother,” Richardson said.

Richardson has high hopes and expectations that Shulman will continue to do an exceptional job organizing the annual luncheon for years to come.

Twenty-year U.S. Air Force veteran Barb Fitzgerald says she can’t wait for next year’s event.

“Veterans Day is a time when we honor our veterans. To look around and see the smiles on their faces as we get together — it was a great day,” Fitzgerald said. “Remembering those that had gone before us — it just means so much to me.”

Fitzgerald added that helping veterans is her passion and she does whatever she can, which is why she’s heavily involved with the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. organization.

“It’s in my blood. It’s in the core of me. I don’t know what else to do with my life,” Fitzgerald said.

Through ticket purchases and the fundraising at the event, the lodge was able to donate $12,000 to Habitat for Humanity Veterans Build.