By Lauren Zaepfel
Thomas Daniels, owner of Submasters at 105 Main St., North Tonawanda, is encouraging his customers to treat veterans to lunch through his annual "Pay It Forward to Veterans" program.
From now until Veterans Day, Daniels is providing thank you cards at his shop that customers can fill out with both their names and the amount they wish to donate to pin on a display board. When checking out, they add the donation amount to their bill. When veterans or active service members come into the shop, they are able to take any card from the board and use the amount donated toward a meal.
Submasters then treats them to a 20-ounce pop to go with the meal.
"It's a great program," Daniels said. "We did over 200 vets with it last year through us and our customers. This year, we're hoping to push it even more."
This is Daniels' second year running the program and he's expanded the offer to active service members.
"Veterans, 365 days a year, they're out there (and) they're fighting for us," he said. "We support them one day a year and it just doesn't seem right."
Last year, Daniels said he met veterans from World War II, Vietnam and those who've fought in Afghanistan and continue to serve today.
"They are so appreciative and they're really just taken aback by it," he said. "And the community supports it, too. ... You just donate whatever you feel. If you want to buy them a slice of pizza, hey, drop two bucks in there. ... And we've got a ton of lunch specials for five bucks."
At the end of the program, Daniels will take any leftover donations and use them to help provide meals to veterans via local organizations.
Last year, Daniels was able to help the Biker Church, a ministry of the Tonawanda Free Methodist Church, with its annual Veterans Day dinner by providing meatball subs for the approximately 100 veterans who attended. For this, he used leftover donations from the Pay It Forward program and then covered the remainder of the cost to ensure all veterans were provided with a free sub. He plans to do it again this year.
"Every Veterans Day, we have given the veterans free meatball subs, and any veteran can come down and get a free meatball sub," Deacon Wayne Nero said.
Last year, after frequenting Submasters and filling out the donation thank you cards, Nero said the group decided to reach out to Tom and ask if they could purchase meatballs from him for the dinner.
"We wanted to help him out and buy them from him and he said, 'No. I'd like to do it for you guys.' ... And we were so humbled by it and so appreciative and so that's how that relationship started," Nero said.
The dinner is slated to run from 5-8 p.m. Monday, Nov. 7, at the Tonawanda Free Methodist Church, 207 Grove St. It is open to the public. Those who are not veterans will be asked to pay a small fee for their meal, which will go toward the church's Christmas initiatives.
Overall, Daniels said he has already received good response to the "Pay It Forward to Veterans" program.
"We just want to make sure that any vets know to come on down and grab some lunch," he said.
"When we show up, we always try to put something on the board toward a meal for the veterans," Nero said. "It's just a (way of) giving back for the men and the women who have done so much to secure what we have."