Janice Sweeney, whose late father and husband were veterans, has put her experience as a club manager and caterer to work as the kitchen manager of Jay’s VFW Post 3335.

Janice Sweeney of Jay is the kitchen and canteen manager at the VFW Post 3335 in Jay. She and other members provide Friday night take-out meals to help keep the post open. Submitted photo

Sweeney and other members at the VFW looked at ways to keep the organization going as the COVID-19 pandemic set in in March of 2020. They came up with an idea to launch Friday night take-out dinners.

Sweeney, a life member of the organization, worked at Wausau Paper’s Otis Mill for 25 years until it closed in mid-2009. She then served as manager of Hillside Sports Club in Jay before deciding to become more involved in the VFW because of declining membership, becoming its kitchen and canteen manager.

How did you get involved in managing the VFW? My father was a World War II soldier in the Air Force. A tail gunner who was in the first daylight raid over Germany. He was always so proud of his service, so it was only natural to want to get involved. My husband served in Vietnam and we are both life members. He passed in 2017. I’ve been more involved in recent years because there has been a lack of membership. Returning veterans of recent years are not joining veterans organizations and the majority of our members of both the VFW Post and Auxiliary are elderly.

Do you enjoy working with veterans? I very much enjoy working with and for the veterans both young and old. Always look forward to our programs that are aimed to help them and the community.

Janice Sweeney, left, kitchen manager at the VFW in Jay, and fellow members work kitchen duty at Post 3335. Next to Sweeney, from left to right, are Nancy Donnell, Jim Manter, Pam Manter, Sandra Cushman, Lynn Dunton and Larry Bilodeau. Submitted photo

Who thought up the idea to hold weekly drive-through Friday night dinners? It was a group effort to do Friday night take-out. Our inside meals had severely declined the last few years and making ends meet was very hard. When the pandemic started, everything changed. We felt it was a good thing to do to get people at least out of their homes and not have to cook at least one night a week.

How many people usually sign up for a dinner? It started slow but in a couple of months we were averaging 75 to 100 meals a week. That kept up till summer when restrictions were lifted and people had more options for eating out. We have several loyal supporters, many who have never missed a Friday. November and December have been slow but we are in the hopes that the new year will turn things around.

Is it difficult to make enough dinners if there are late callers? Planning the meals is always a group effort we all enjoy. We always try to make extra for those who forget to call ahead. As you can imagine calling ahead is a big plus for planning.

Who does the cooking? I very much enjoy cooking these meals but I’m not the only one. The Post also helps with the chicken barbecue and their famous ribs dinners. Between the post and auxiliary there are 10 to 15 volunteers and we literally have a ball doing them. We are also in awe of the continued support. We’re hoping for another successful year , and of course hall rentals also help to pay the bills. We also offer catering for all in-house events. Lastly, our after-Friday-night-take-out therapy sessions are a great time to see what else we can do to improve business.

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