Cooking for a cause with four PAWS

Main Street event raises money for veterans’ organizations

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A “Cooking for a PAWS” fundraiser was held on Main Street in Patchogue to raise money for PAWS of War and VFW’s Unmet Needs program. The event was organized by VFW Post 2913 and Dave Rogers, a member and veteran who hosts the “Cooking with a Veteran” show on Facebook and YouTube, and writes a column in this paper.

“Food is a great way to bring people together. They [eventgoers] can talk to veterans, get to know veterans and all have a good time together,” said Rogers of the event, for which a $15 ticket bought a plate of barbecue.

Event proceeds were donated to PAWS of War, a Long Island-based organization that provides service dogs to veterans, and to VFW’s Unmet Needs Program, which helps veterans with basic life needs.

The menu included brisket, chicken, ribs, sausage and peppers; and side dishes, including coleslaw, potato salad and corn on the cob. All of the food was donated by the event’s sponsors, which included local restaurants, stores and national and international corporations. The coleslaw and barbecue sauce—Rogers’s special Kansas City-style recipe—were handmade the morning of the event. Rogers worked on his dry-rubs until late the night before.

Ticketholders were given water or Gatorade to drink; they also had the option to walk a few doors down to Whiskey Neat to get a drink from Megan Black, one of Whiskey Neat’s bartenders.

Whiskey Neat, celebrating its seventh week in operation, played a special role in the festivities. Not only did the restaurant and bar provide air-conditioned seating, they also provided the smoker—a large contraption stationed as a focal point at the event.

Del Giorno, co-owner of Whiskey Neat, said he has owned the smoker for years and rents it out as a business. The smoker’s capabilities are many. It’s powered by a 500-gallon propane tank. It has a pizza oven, eight-burner char grill, four-burner flat top; and it can fit 40 racks of ribs. It was brought around the block on a trailer (Del Giorno keeps it parked in the Whiskey Neat parking lot).

“It has more equipment than most kitchens,” he said.

Del Giorno said he was happy to participate in the event “to be a part of the community,” and was inspired by Rogers’s level of commitment to creating a successful event.

“This event is a testament to two things: first, Patchogue being a friendly place to operate, and second, Dave and his hard work,” said Del Giorno.

For Rogers, cooking for veterans came about as a response to the pandemic.

“I didn’t cook for a long time because of my PTSD, but in the pandemic, I found out that veterans were waiting to get hot food. The soup kitchens were closed, but the food banks were operating. They were giving out food—just not hot food,” said Rogers.

Rogers began cooking again, seeking inspiration for his recipes in his world travels. Giving back was especially important for Rogers, because he once needed the help himself.

“If it wasn’t for the VFW, I would probably be a statistic today,” he said.  

Nancy Barrett, president of VFW Post 2913 Auxiliary, also spoke of the importance of giving back and of what VFW posts do for the communities they serve.

“This event brings awareness of what the veteran community actually does. We help community veterans, homeless veterans, overseas veterans and we help the community, too. When we do events like this, they see that our post is alive,” said Barrett.

During a quiet moment, Rogers was able to catch up with his friends Glenn and Tracie Sullivan, who had driven in from Nassau County to support the event. Tracie Sullivan, a teacher in Ozone Park, met Rogers when she asked him to speak about the meaning of Memorial Day in her classroom.

“Without them, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do. We take what they do for us for granted. People have to pay attention to these young adults who go overseas and fight for us and we don’t even know who they are,” said Glenn Sullivan of the role veterans play in all of our lives.

One such veteran, who volunteered to serve food at the event, was Donna Zephrine. Zephrine served two deployments in Iraq.

“A lot of the vets I know have service dogs. It helps with their illnesses and ailments like PTSD and traumatic brain injury. I’d like a service dog in the future because they become your best friend,” said Zephrine.

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