MARION — Veterans Honor Flight of Southern Illinois received a donation of 25 wheelchairs from Walmart’s Southern Illinois Market, which includes 11 stores in Southern Illinois.
Bryan Questelle, chairman of Southern Illinois Honor Flight, thanked Walmart for the donation and the associates at the individual stores.
“We are very pleased to support honor flight. It’s a really worthy organization,” Jamie Tylka, Walmart Southern Illinois Market manager, said. “We look forward to a really good partnership in the future.”
Tylka said the area covered by Veterans Honor Flight of Southern Illinois is almost identical to the Southern Illinois market.
“Walmart is very supportive of veterans, probably the most supportive organization out there for veterans,” Tylka said.
A member of her management team told Tylka about honor flight, and she took it to the store managers. They unanimously voted to support the organization.
Tylka added that she believes everyone got behind the idea because it is easy to feel great about supporting veterans.
“We didn’t want anything from Honor Flight. We just want to support them. They didn’t come to us; we came to them,” Tylka said.
At their first meeting with Honor Flight, the Walmart representatives learned that the organization had to borrow wheelchairs for veterans on the flight. They decided they could meet that need. The store sells wheelchairs in its pharmacies.
Walmart also offered ideas on fundraising and will provide volunteers. On Wednesday, the Marion store manager agreed to provide food for a meeting between guardians and veterans later this month.
“Walmart does big things big. There is nothing we cannot do when we put enough people behind it,” Tylka said.
Questelle said they first met with Walmart on March 9. "We told them we need lightweight wheelchairs for 60 to 70 veterans. Here we sit with 25 more chairs. Now, we’re up to 75,” Questelle said.
Retired Vice Adm. Nancy Brown, vice chairman of Honor Flight, explained to the Walmart managers why wheelchairs are so important, saying some veterans would not be able to go without them. Some veterans use chairs all the time, while other tire easily and need them at some point during the trip.
The next honor flight departing from Veterans Airport of Southern Illinois will be April 24. Sixty-nine veterans will be on the flight. This will be the group’s third flight.
The group is selling banners for the wheelchairs. They may honor a deceased or living veteran, and cost $100 each.
The group also is selling tickets to win a motorcycle, which will be given away April 24. Tickets are $10 each, and only 2,000 tickets will be sold. They are available at Veterans Airport of Southern Illinois.
For more information or to donate, visit www.veteranshonorflight.org.