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Leader of the Veteran's Gift Card Project, and Pastor of Redkey and Dunkirk Mt. Tabor United Methodist churches, Randy "McRandy" Davis began his campaign to give $5 McDonald's gift cards to veterans in 2011 after taking a friend who had been diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gerig's disease, to the Marion VA hospital.
"There were 15-20 men standing outside," said Davis. "It felt like I had parachuted into a field hospital for the forgotten and abandoned. You could tell they were still fighting their own battles, they were just dealing with a lot of personal issues."
Davis said he spent quite a bit of time there before finally going with his friend inside, where he saw "some real war tragedies." While Davis said he is aware this is not representative of all veterans, these are the ones who initially got his attention.
Unable to get the men off his mind, Davis connected with a chaplain who took him to volunteer services where he received about four pages of items they would accept on behalf of veterans. One of those items, gift cards to fast-food restaurants, caught Davis' eye.
"Of course, when you think of fast food you've gotta think the Golden Arches," Davis said with a laugh.
Davis said he thought this was something he could handle. The idea was to get the cards in $5 increments. That would at least buy a meal, and could possibly meet the needs of many veterans.
"We based all of this on the scripture from John with the feeding of the multitudes where they went out to feed the 5,000 with a little bit of fish and little bit of bread. We talk about this being a way to share a cup of cold water as Christ says to do, but we're doing it with a Big Mac, fries, and a Coke. I think He's all right with that." When the project started near the end of September 2011, Davis set a goal of 150 cards. When the project wrapped for the year around December 18, he had received over 2,000 gift cards.
Asking for as many details and interesting side stories as possible, Davis has received tales from every branch of the military, from nearly every conflict the United States has been involved in within the past century.
The cards began pouring in, and with them memories of loved ones who have served in the military. Davis said those stories of sacrifice, love, and respect touched him deeply and made him realize what he was offering people. More than just a meal, he was giving loved ones a chance to tell their story, to honor their loved ones in a way that helped others
"We heard stories of POWs, MIAs . . . stories of a dad who maybe was so weak that he could hardly get up. But yet when his three buddies escaped, they carried him to freedom. So I think this project has brought a lot of healing to families. It gave them that opportunity to share their hurt, to share their heart. To just show the unconditional love of Christ."
Davis said one memory he has is of a veteran he spoke to after giving a talk in Bluffton. The man told him that when he returned from the service, he had been home for four years before he got a single thank-you from anybody outside of his family.
"We thought this was a tangible way to give a thank you, to let them know they haven't been forgotten. I realize sometimes we bring these things on ourselves," said Davis. "But you know what, I'm not going to ask 'What caused this?' If there's a need, I want to help meet it. If I get taken over a $5 McDonald's gift card, well I hope that's the most I ever get taken for."
Spurred by the success of the 2011 project, Davis decided to keep things going, along with 13 new team members who have pledged to help, setting this year's goal at 5,000 cards. On July 9, they reached their goal and as of the end of August have collected 6,743 gift cards.
After the recent death of Spc. Nick Taylor, of Berne, Davis received approximately 30 cards within three days in honor of the fallen hero.
"People care, and this is one way to show that . . . There was a young man from Jay County, I think it was in 2008, Andrew Whitacre, who was a Marine, who was killed in Afghanistan," Davis said. "Similar situation to Nick Taylor here. I received a nice check from his foundation, and there was a note attached that said 'Andrew would have liked this.' And boy, I tell you, that was just the stamp of approval that you hope for." Davis said 100 percent of donations received go toward the McDonald's cards, and any expenses he may have, such as gas or stamps, come out of his own wallet.
"It's been as humbling as anything I've ever done. And probably as personally a pure of project ministries I've ever been involved with.
"During World War II, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had a slogan 'The difficult we do immediately, the impossible will take a little longer.' That's where the project is. Where's it going to end? I have no idea. It's just a $5 card. For most of us, it's not going to make or break."
For more information, or to donate, visit www.veteransgiftcards.com or contact Davis at (765) 730-4979 or at firstname.lastname@example.org; or Jane Reidenbach at (260) 517-9683.