WEST WARWICK – The veterans all served with honor and now it was time to serve them, or, better, serve for them.
A slew of local personalities manned (and womanned) the bar at Millonzi’s Bar & Grill Thursday night to raise as much as $2,000 for Operation Stand Down, which has been providing shelter and other benefits for the state’s homeless veterans for the past 20 years.
Sponsored by RI4GIs, Celebrity Bartender Night brought an eclectic mix of Generals, TV reporters, newspaper columnists and former New England Patriots to mix drinks and personalities with customers who paid $10 for the privilege, door prizes and the delicious buffet of chicken masala, pasta and all the trimmings.
Only at Millonzi’s on May 23 could you see the reporters of WJAR 10 – the comely Suzie Steimle and Molly O’Brien, elbow to elbow with the fetching crew from ABC 6 – Liz Tufts, Chelsea Priest and Dee DeQuattro, behind the bar. Only at this important event for vets could you hear funny stories from General (Ret.) Reginald Centracchio and Providence Journal sports columnist Jim Donaldson, and receive signed autographed photos of former Patriots running back Harold Shaw who served cocktails with his signature.
Sports were a prevalent theme for the evening; door prizes included a pair of Boston Red Sox tickets, four Golfer’s warehouse gift cards, dinner for four at Libations and more.
“I was glad to do this,” said owner Kevin Millonzi who donated all food and, who, along with his excellent wait staff, donated all tips to the cause. “Reggie (General Centracchio) is a good friend, his jazz quintet plays here (Centracchio is a trumpet player) and it seemed the right thing to put together for the veterans. It definitely is a good turnout.”
“Rhode Island is family for you,” Centracchio told the bar owner. “Your invitation to the community is really essential for this cause. I am happy to be here. This is a fun event and important.”
Organizer Ray Dube said the TV personality bartending event came on the heels of a similar event in November, where local politicians served and took a bit of ribbing from the public. “We wanted a different group for this,” said Dube. “Everyone we asked said, ‘If I’m available, I would be very glad to do it.’ These are good people and they do just about everything we ask of them.”
Suzie Steimle, who joined the WJAR 10 news team just five months ago, coming from a Vermont news station, consented for two reasons.
“This is a great cause, and a great way to meet and get to know people (in Rhode Island),” she said. “My grandfather was a veteran and some of the local veterans need some help.”
Her WJAR colleague, Molly O’Brien, shared more personal reasons.
“I had someone very close to me, my friend Mark, who was a gunner in Fallujah (Iraq),” she said. “He returned with PTSD and he didn’t get the help he needed. He had horrible nightmares, began drinking. He couldn’t cope. He was very young when he went over. It was very difficult.”
O’Brien continued, “Returning veterans really need our support here at home. I can’t imagine what Vietnam vets went through upon their return to America. They are still trying to readjust. Being an advocate for this cause is very important and if I can help in some small way, well, it’s an easy thing to do.”
Jim Donaldson of The Providence Journal attended Notre Dame on a Naval ROTC scholarship. He was an ensign in the U.S. Navy, the same age – 23 – that his dad served in World War II. Donaldson comes from three generations of veterans in his family.
“They are a very, very underappreciated group, veterans,” said Donaldson. “I appreciate what they have done and understand what they have done. I think of my father, who at 23, would fly off aircraft carriers into the Pacific to Wake Island and Tarawa and (others) on bombing missions and, on every one of them, he never knew if he was coming back.”
Dube said the evening raised between $1,500 and $2,000 for the cause. Estimates vary, but it is believed that as many as 1,800 veterans in Rhode Island need housing, shelter or other benefits to survive.
For more information, Google Operation Stand Down or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org .