There are hundreds of reasons why living in Barrie is a terrific way to built a life. Some of them happened this weekend during Celebrate Barrie on the waterfront. Others happen every day of the year when Armed Forces veterans gather at the Army Navy Air Force Club on George St.

They gather to reminisce. They go for lunch to enjoy the fruits of the daily steam table where the 'best lunch in Barrie' awaits. They show up for work parties. The initiate new non-veteran members into their club and keep the fellowship going. And as they raise money from renting their three halls, by catering meals, by holding events, they turn and gift this community with hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The Army Navy Air Force Club is now 40 years old. The club received its charter and set up in rental property on Dunlop St West (near Toronto) in March, 1966. Chuck Byron (of Byron Graham Motors) was a founding member. So was Leo Berard. And Neil McKinnon joined back at the beginning, too. These fellows are all what you'd call 'seniors active' these days, and each year they attend funerals of more than a score of their comrades.

Yet, still they hold true to their purpose: fellowship and community.

Associate members (non veterans) now outnumber the veterans and when General Tire was in its hayday on Hart Dr., the ANAF membership swelled to 1410... the ANAF had built their own facility on George St and the restaurant and its daily fare provided a great respite either before or after one's shift.

Today there are 700 members fuelling the energies of ANAF... 602 men and an incredibly busy 78 women. This charitable organization raises and gives more money to charities than you would ever think possible.

The ANAF built its own building at 7 George St in 1974. Neil has been president since then, overseeing, negotiating, and keeping the members in a common goal with a common philosophy. At age 82, Neil and his wife Marilyn have been pillars of this group for several decades.

As well as raise money, this club built the Food Bank building on club-owned land in 1989, plus the Sea Cadet Boathouse on the water at the Government Dock and seven additions to its own building. They raise money by renting out three event facilities complete with catering and bar services. They offer their space for trade shows, political gatherings, fundraising launches, service club meetings, and lots and lots of weddings.

They made a $1 million commitment to the Cancer Care Centre and will pay that over a number of years. They pledged money for the building of Victoria Village, bursaries for the hospital, the initial kick-off $50,000 that started the Circle at the Centre, which is now the crowded, cheerful ice surface at City Hall all winter and the reflective pond all summer. They give the Food Bank back at least half its rent every year. They regularly kick off the Salvation Army's Red Shield Campaign each year. They are generous donors to Christmas Cheer.

Army Navy Air Force also relieves personal pressure for people going through a tough time. They help with overdue utility bills, and help in special cases when families are in dire straits. This is done very, very quietly.

Last year when Neil wanted to go to Italy to lay wreaths and poppies on veterans' graves to mark 60 years of Armistice, he didn't have the funds to go. Advance Publisher Joe Anderson and former Mayor Janice Laking mobilized a bit of a fundraising drive to make it possible for Neil to go to Italy. Neil said he received a phone call from a woman who read about the effort. She was holding a garage sale to raise money to donate to Neil. Why? Fourteen years ago this woman was on her own at the Women's & Children's Crisis Centre; she and her 14 year old son were starting to rebuild their lives when her son lost his leg to cancer. He was a real hockey enthusiast and a goaltender and Neil got the ANAF involved. The club helped her outfit her son to play goal after his prosthesis was fitted.

She never forgot the kindness. The garage sale proceeds helped Neil board a plane for Italy.

Her son? Well, he works in the assistive devices field, helping fit others with prosthetic limbs.

You just never know how far reaching your impact will be.

A look at the list of charitable recipients of Army Navy Air Force is a bird's eye view of the goodness of this community.

School Bursaries, RVH Dialysis unit, Sunnybrook Vets Hospital, Colour of Music, Say No to Drugs, Multiple Sclerosis Society, Barrie City Band, March of Dimes, Busby Centre, Brock Youth Centre, St. John Ambulance, Hospice Simcoe, YMCA, Eat Well to Excel, Alzheimer Society, Seasons, CNIB Children's Aid, Barrie Fire Department's Camp Bucko (for children who are burn victims), Grove Park Home, Crime Stoppers, Talk is Free Theatre... on and on and on...

In 2004 ANAF gifted our community $157,000 AND did substantial building maintenance so they can continue to raise money.

In 2003 their donations totalled $194,000.

These figures don't include the individual needs that they support as they arise.

This is an incredible achievement for a group of veterans and associates who enjoy 'the best lunch in Barrie' on a regular basis. Neil stresses that the canteen and steam table is open daily to the public... and while it may be the best lunch, it's also likely the cheapest.

How blessed we are with this remarkable group!

Thanks, Neil. Thanks, ANAF!

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