Local A&W raising funds for wounded warriors

MIDDLEBURY — Steve Nardell didn’t get any parades, salutations or nonprofit organizations springing up to look out for his interests and those of his fellow soldiers who returned from Vietnam in 1970.
But Nardell, a Middlebury retiree, is helping to rally the troops for a special Aug. 6 fundraiser that will generate funds for the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), a charity and veterans-service organization that offers a variety of programs and events for wounded veterans of military actions that have followed the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The fundraiser will feature plenty of floats and personnel in camouflage — though not exactly in the form one might think.
The floats will be of the ice cream and root beer variety and those wearing the camouflage shirts will be servers at the Middlebury A&W Restaurant on Route 7 South. The floats will come free this Thursday at A&W eateries nationwide, though customers will be given the opportunity to make financial contributions to the WWP.
“I will be here and I might knock on some people’s doors” to encourage contributions, smiled Nardell, who was wounded during one of his tours as a U.S. Army Airborne Ranger in Vietnam.
A&W has traditionally marked “National Root Beer Float Day” on Aug. 6. In the past, it has been mostly about bringing in new customers and offering folks a free treat. But the company decided in 2013 to add the Wounded Warrior Project angle to the event, which has generated a combined total of more than $300,000 for the charity during the past two root beer float days, according to corporate literature.
A&W counts 1,100 franchise locations in 10 countries and territories, according to the company’s website.
Gail Daha is manager of the Middlebury A&W. She is hoping the restaurant more than triples last year’s contribution total of $500 for the Wounded Warrior Project. Local franchise owner Tony Neri — a longtime contributor to WWP — doesn’t mind giving out the free floats, considering the potential return for veterans and their families. Neri said he appreciates the fact that the WWP helps not only the veteran, but his or her family members who share in the soldier’s problems.
“Over a period of years, I think A&W can raise millions (for WWP),” he said.
As of this past Thursday, the Middlebury A&W had already received $200 in contributions placed in donation boxes at the restaurant. One customer gave a $50 bill, Daha noted. Anyone who donates can get a tag bearing their name that is then displayed on the restaurant wall.
The annual root bear float day has become more than a fundraiser for Daha. Her brother-in-law has served four tours in the Middle East with the Vermont Air National Guard. She is therefore aware of the challenges that veterans face following their return from war zones.
“I think everyone knows somebody (who served),” Daha said. “It means a lot to everybody.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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