DANVILLE — An effort to help volunteer veterans is expanding even more this year. Operation Honor Guard is an effort to raise money for uniforms for people involved in military funerals. People can donate in person in three states this year at multiple locations, including in central Illinois. Organizers say they couldn’t be happier, especially considering the group’s humble roots.
For the fourth year in a row, people in central Illinois are raising money for veterans. But a lot has changed since they came up with the idea.
“We started at Walmart on just a five hour bucket campaign,” said Tom Morse, who is the veteran liaison for the Operation Honor Guard board.
“We raised $5,000 the first year, everyone thought that was amazing,” said Jill Darby, who is also on the board. “And now this year, we’re talking about trying to reach $100,000, so I never thought it would grow this much, but I’m very happy it has.”
The whole group is happy with the direction they’ve been growing. Tom, Jill and Scott Watson are all on the newly formed board of directors for Operation Honor Guard, led by founder Rich Darby.
“I am so proud,” said Rich. “I’m so proud of our communities for grasping it like they have and running with it.”
After the first year, they teamed up with WCIA to help raise money. Rich’s wife, Jill, says the Day of Giving is one of her favorite days of the year.
“Just being with all the honor guard members and out collecting funds from people, it’s just a lot of fun,” said Jill.
“I’ve been involved in probably 600 funerals on the honor guard,” said Tom.
Tom says he’s seen the struggles honor guards face.
“As we did funerals, we noticed we had 14 different shades of gray pants and 14 different color shades of navy blazers,” said Tom.
That’s why their goal is to collect money — to help honor guard members match to give those veterans the respect they deserve.
“Very thankful to be part of this organization,” said Scott, who is the superintendent at the Bismarck-Henning school district. “Excited to see where it goes.”
In the future, they also want to incorporate students so they invited members from the educational community.
“What greater way can you show kids respect for veterans by not only raising dollars to help provide the uniforms and materials for the people when the go and show respect for the soldiers who are being laid to rest,” said Scott.
“We get to experience each and every year how our communities, how our nation loves our veterans, how they grasp them, how they want to support them,” said Rich. “And we have the greatest nation in the world because of them.”
This week, we’ll have the opportunity to make a difference for them once again.