Lori Nunemaker was stunned.
She had just watched a newscast detailing the latest damage at the Manteca Veterans Center on Moffat Boulevard since it opened over a year ago.
Equipment stolen. Light fixtures ripped off. Copper wiring stripped. Graffiti sprayed on the building. Forty-eight shrubs stolen. The American flag that flies over the post home shredded when an attempt to steal it failed.
It was happening in her town. And it was happening at a place where men and women who fought for all of the freedoms we enjoy gather.
The last words in the newscast segment uttered by a veteran on camera got to her — “We fought for you, please fight for us.”
“I’m not a crier, but that teared me up,” Nunemaker said.
She went to bed but couldn’t get it out of her head.
The banging of branches in the wind and rain Wednesday at 5 a.m. woke her up.
It was still gnawing at her.
She knew what it was like to be violated by thieves. Her home had been burglarized twice. One time thieves stole a golf cart ad trailer from her front driveway.
She had to do something to show the veterans that people cared and that there were plenty of good folks in the world and that the bad is an aberration.
She wasn’t an electrician, so replacing the lights was out. She could paint over graffiti but it was going to be cold and wet for the foreseeable future.
Planting shrubs was something she could do especially given gardening is a passion with her.
So she dressed and headed down to the Manteca Home Depot where she bought a gallon of paint designed to cover graffiti and bought every low-maintenance shrub that Home Depot had — 40 in all.
Then she loaded them into the truck and headed to the Manteca Veterans Center.
She went inside and gave Post Commander Carlon Perry the gallon of paint and said she was there to replace the shrubs.
Perry was stunned. His surprise became even bigger when he stepped outside and realized she wasn’t talking about just a few shrubs but 40.
Perry noted here was a fellow Manteca resident — none of whom the veterans had ever met — with a shovel and $300 worth of plants to help right ongoing wrongs inflicted on the post by meth heads, vandals, some homeless, and thieves too cheap to buy their own plants.
“It gave me hope,” Perry said.
Nunemaker said she’d do the planting herself and that all they had to do was show her where.
Veteran Don Jaramillo insisted that he’d help. After a quick change of clothes he was outside working side by side with the Good Samaritan.
Nunemaker was honored.
“Here is a guy that got a purple heart to (secure my freedoms),” she said.
Nunemaker sees it as the least she could do. She also believes if everyone just did what they could — an electrician deciding they can fix and replace the lights or even a small gesture such as a card dropped off expressing support — that the veterans would know they are not alone and that good will ultimately triumph.
Perry said the post is more than appreciative of Nunemaker’s effort. It has been a grind for the past 14 months given a week doesn’t go by that someone isn’t stealing or damaging Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6311’s home.
“If all people do is keep eyes on (the veterans’ center) when they drive by that would help a lot,” Perry said.
Nunemaker for her part sees it as much as a debt as to show solidarity and support of fellow Manteca residents.
“There is a lot of unrest in this country right now,” Nunemaker said, adding “it’s a beautiful thing that we can be upset” thanks to men and women who have served in the military.
“We don’t have to worry about someone knocking on our door at 3 o’clock in the morning and taking us away (because we protest),” she said. “That’s a beautiful thing we owe to our veterans.”
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email firstname.lastname@example.org