Rices Landing Legion post rallies to help youngsters
Six-month-old Ezekiel Balschmiter is held by Charlotte Blaker, a member of the American Legion Riders, Post 816, Rices Landing. She and Sandi Hogue, also a member of the Legion Riders, have organized a spaghetti dinner and silent auction to benefit Zeke. At far right is Robert Blaker, post commander. At far left are Zeke’s parents, Bryan and Nikki Balschmiter.
Tara Kinsell / Observer-Reporter
Order a Print
RICES LANDING – What is it about helping others that keeps those who do it coming back for more? Two busy women who belong to the American Legion Riders, Post 816, Rices Landing, took time from their latest fundraising venture to tell it like it is.
“It is an awesome feeling to be able to do something to help make someone’s life a little bit easier,” Sandi Hogue said.
Charlotte Blaker agrees.
“It is an amazing feeling to help our veterans and community, but an even better feeling to watch how the legion, the community and volunteers from all over the area unite for a cause,” she said.
When it comes to a cause, nothing seems to generate unity like a sick child. For the legion motorcycle riders, 8-year-old Janelle Burketts was a compelling reason to gear up for their first big benefit in August, Blaker said. Until then, Legion service projects had involved “taking collections and sending items to all local veterans deployed oversees. Then one of our auxiliary members heard about a local girl with cancer, so we decided to meet with the family to see what we could do to help.”
Hogue and her husband had done benefit rides before they joined the Rices Landing post. “But when we joined we, got our first opportunity to help organize one,” she said. “We walked into the American Legion one night, and the commander of the post told us about this little girl who had a brain tumor and what could we do?”
The Legion, it turns out, could do a lot.
“We have active Legion members, Auxiliary members, Sons of the American Legion, Legion Riders and social members,” Blaker said. “If it weren’t for all the help and support from the members and the community, we would not have been able to create such a successful event. We sold over 110 pounds of spaghetti at the dinner, the community donated more than 60 baskets to raffle, the Legion Riders did a motorcycle benefit ride and the Legion had a successful turn out the day of the event with more than 80 crew volunteers.”
Hogue remembers it was a great ride even though it had rained earlier that morning.
“It seemed like all of Rices Landing came out to help and give gifts and cash donations. It was a great experience to find all that support in the community,” she said.
The Legion used purchased a reliable vehicle the Burketts could use to drive Janelle to Pittsburgh for treatments.
“She is currently home-schooled and is taking chemotherapy treatments,” Blaker said. “She also needed a few other items which the benefit fund purchased.”
Bryan and Nikki Balschmiter of Carmichaels had no idea the Legion would be riding to their rescue when they learned in August that their 6-month-old son, Ezekiel, had been born with cryptorchideism and was in immediate need of two surgeries.
“When Bryan was discharged from the Army, his benefits were cut off,” Nikki Balschmiter said. “When Zeke was born, Brian was still out of work so we moved to Greene County in June to be closer to my family. Bryan just got a job but we still don’t have insurance.
“We have to give Children’s Hospital $5,278 a week before surgery, which is scheduled for Nov. 19, so my family started fundraising. We made T-shirts, put up posters and had our first bake sale at the Covered Bridge Festival in September. Then my sister ran into a woman in the store who said ‘why don’t you talk to Darrin Hogue at the American Legion?’ I called and explained and he said ‘OK, let’s see what we can do.’ They had a meeting the next day and got involved. They’ve helped us tremendously and Bryan and I are now members.”
Legion Riders will host a spaghetti dinner and silent auction to benefit Zeke from noon to 5 p.m. Oct. 20 at the Legion hall. Proceeds will go directly to Children’s Hospital.
If you would like to donate a gift basket for the auction or make a donation, call Sandi Hogue at 724-710-6653 or Charlotte Blaker at 724-366-5975.