“The joy you get from the veterans, the appreciation they show you. You see that every year, and you want to go back and help again.”
Linda Liebenow doesn’t consider herself the manager of the Portland, Ore., American Legion Auxiliary Christmas Gift Shop. She coordinates the ALA’s work with the Veterans Affairs Medical Center that hosts the shop, but she insists that’s just her role as part of the program’s committee.
“The whole committee works on it,” said Liebenow, a resident of Wilsonville, Ore. “We all have our own little job to do.”
No matter what title you give her, Liebenow has been bringing Christmas cheer to veterans and their families for more than two decades. She began volunteering at her local ALA Christmas Gift Shop in 1997.
Historically hosted at VAMCs and veterans homes, ALA Christmas Gift Shops allow veterans in these facilities to send gifts to their loved ones at no cost to the veterans. For the Portland shop, now in its 80th year, the numbers show the impact. In 2018 alone, that ALA Christmas Gift Shop:
- Served 423 patients, including 40 inpatients at the VAMC.
- Collected $36,773 in gifts to provide to veterans and spent $2,129 on additional gifts and on shipping to family members.
- Had 55 volunteers who served 606 hours. Fourteen of those helping were first-time volunteers.
Liebenow has held a variety of leadership positions in the ALA. No surprise — since, for the Liebenows, American Legion Family involvement spans three generations.
Her husband, Robert — a Vietnam War veteran who served in the U.S. Navy — is a divisional vice commander in The American Legion, from Hillsboro Post 6. Also members of ALA Unit 6 in Hillsboro are her daughter, Kathy Jones; daughter-in-law, Leisa Liebenow; and granddaughter, Emily Jones. Her son, Jason Liebenow; and grandsons, Corbin Liebenow and Griffin Liebenow, are in Sons of The American Legion Hillsboro Squadron 6.
What does your work on the Portland, Ore., ALA Christmas Gift Shop committee involve?
I usually call a meeting in October, and we go over inventory of gifts. We go over who’s going to do this, and who’s going to do that. We have fliers we put up at the hospital, and we have what we call a tray card that goes out on lunch and dinner trays for inpatients, letting them know when the gift shop is open. And I just coordinate all that, making sure everybody is doing their jobs.
They book the auditorium [in the VAMC, where the shop is set up] five years in advance. So, we make sure we haven’t gotten bumped out of there. And then they make sure we have all the tables and all the equipment we need when we go in there to set it up.
We set up the day after Thanksgiving. We have our grand opening on Saturday. Saturday afternoon is open to inpatients only. And then Monday through Thursday of the following week we’re open for inpatients and outpatients.
What do veterans experience when they come into the shop?
We have a registration desk when they first come in. Then each veteran is escorted through the gift shop. Then we escort them back out, and the gifts are gift wrapped and either put in a place for the veteran to pick up later that day or we mail them outside the Portland metro area.
We have extra gifts stashed underneath the tables, so we periodically replenish the tables. We try to keep it so the first shopper isn’t getting anything better than the last shopper. And we usually go out every night and buy more gifts that we’ve run out of.
Why is the ALA Christmas Gift Shop so important?
You have to be there to see it. The joy you get from the veterans, the appreciation they show you. Some of them have been kind of estranged from their families, so this is a way for them to get back in their families’ lives. You see that every year, and you want to go back and help again.
AMERICAN LEGION AUXILIARY UNIT:
Vietnam War veteran Robert Liebenow, husband (U.S. Navy)
YEARS IN THE ALA: 34
Christmas Gift Shop Volunteer: 1997-present
Dept. of Oregon president: 2014-2015
Dept. of Oregon secretary: 2018-present
District 1 Oregon president: 2010-2011
Unit 6 treasurer: 2012-present
Share your membership story! Tell us about yourself and how you support the American Legion Auxiliary as a unit member who also loves the ALA’s mission of serving veterans, the military, and their families. Contact us at ALAMagazine@ALAforVeterans.org or (317) 569-4500.
This story was originally published in the November 2019 Auxiliary magazine.