Veterans Picnic set to return for 34th year

Delaware Valley military members to be honored on Sept. 8

By Sean Devlin

While multiple dates are marked on the calendar to honor veterans nationally, there are other celebrations are held in the area to remember, thank and reflect on the county’s military members.

One such celebration held locally for the past 33 years is a veterans picnic held by the Blackstock family.

This year’s picnic is set for noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 8., rain or shine.

The event first began at Washington Park at 8th and Walnut in Philadelphia in 1984.

Back then, the picnic was meant to be a gathering of World War II veterans — D-Day vets in particular.

Bernadette Blackstock, CEO and President of the People for People Foundation, the organization now helping host the picnic, said the event was the idea of Jim Blackstock, her father-in-law.

She said her father-in-law was amongst the first wave to storm the beaches of Normandy in 1944.

“Mayor Goode (W. Wilson Goode, Sr., Mayor of Philadelphia from 1984 to 1992) wasn’t thrilled when 1,000 people showed up,” Blackstock said jokingly, reflecting on that day in Center City when the family only expected about 100 attendees.

In the following years, the picinc moved from Center City to the Navy Yard, to the Blackstock’s home (after they relocated to Mullica Hill) and, since 2001, the Gloucester County 4H Fairgrounds.

As the location of the picnic changed, so did the attendees.

“It started out as picnic for D-Day vets. In ’91 we started opening it up to everybody. It is actually open to the public. You don’t have to be a vet to come, just come and thank a vet,” Blackstock said.

All veterans and residents from the Delaware Valley are welcome to attend.

The event is free and offers anyone present free admission, food and live music. Food and music are provided by local establishments and artists.

“We are in a time in society where we want to thank our heroes, that’s exactly who these men and women are,” Blackstock said.

While Blackstock stressed the importance of citizens meeting veterans, she also noted the positives effect the event can have on veterans who attend.

“I think they get humility. I think they are very shy and surprised when people come to thank them for their service — especially the Vietnam veterans. They weren’t welcomed home as [members of the military] are now.”

Blackstock said she found it interesting to observe and listen to a common language evolve between all veterans at the event.

“It a camaraderie you don’t see in normal life…they can relate to each other and they understand what they all have been through.”

She added, “It is a joy to see them all together and see them laugh, sometimes cry, and tell their stories.”

For those planning to attend, Blackstock said expect to see “lots of people sitting under the food pavilion laughing, eating hot dogs and have a good time.”

The People for People Foundation is hosting the event. The foundation is a nonprofit that aims to assist those who are normally self-sufficient that have fallen on hard times by providing monetary and advocacy assistance.

“The People for People Foundations has a veterans preference,” Blackstock said. She noted a recent accomplishment of the foundation is the opening of Camp Salute, a 76-unit development in Turnersville.

For more information on the picnic, call (856) 579–7561 or visit www.facebook.com/Vetspicnic/.

For more information on the People for People Foundation, visit www.pfpfoundation.org/.