ESSEX -- There was a lot more to the event than just a line of vehicles that were honking while drivers and passengers waved to onlookers Saturday.
A Fourth of July parade, facilitated by a member of the public, had a great turnout in terms of participants while community members were able to safely line the streets of the village and enjoy the show. Another component to the event, however, was the raising of funds and items for local organizations.
The procession included a variety of pickups, classic and contemporary muscle cars, motorcycles, Jeeps, and a few military trucks. Following the parade, the celebration continued with barbeque, beverages, and live music outside Heart n Soul by MARK BBQ -- a portion of the sales from each of the two time blocks being split to support both the Aunt Dot’s Place food shelf and the Josh Pallotta Fund.
Early estimates point to around $500 being raised for each organization with 659 pounds of food also being collected for the food shelf.
Prior to taking off from a parking lot on Park Street, veteran and restaurateur Darrell Langworthy took the microphone and spoke to those ready to ride. He also took out of his pocket a pair of checks -- one for Aunt Dot’s and another for the Josh Pallotta Fund.
“We made a promise in January that we would donate at least $500 in [money] or food,” Langworthy first said of Aunt Dot’s Place, “And I don't think we've failed to meet that once, but we also want to start off this month the right way with a check for $500.”
Langworthy, owner of the MARK BBQ and Heart n Soul by MARK BBQ restaurants, then handed over the donation and microphone to Kitty Daly, treasurer of Aunt Dot’s.
“I can’t begin to tell you how much MARK BBQ and Darrell have meant to the food shelf,” said Daly. “The community, in general, is amazing, but Darrell has stepped up month-after-month-after-month with food and funds. Please keep supporting him, because he really supports us.”
With a tear in his eye, Langworthy then introduced Valerie Pallotta, the mother of a Vermont National Guard veteran and a founding member of the Josh Pallotta Fund. Langworthy explained how he had planned on raising $2,000 for the organization through one of MARK BBQ’s recent Mission Sundays -- but that the goal wasn’t quite reached through sales alone.
“Whatever we made for profit that day went to the select charity, and I have this thing where, if we fall short, I make up for the difference… We fell quite a bit short of that [$2,000 goal]; the turnout was just a bad Sunday… So I have something for you from that day. It's not much, but I promised you $2,000 that day, and we're going to do it,” he said as he took a second check out of his wallet and handed it to Valerie.
Valerie then quoted part of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” before telling the story of the Josh Pallotta Fund -- a story which started with a seven-year-old boy who wrote a note saying he wanted to one day be a soldier.
Josh, a 2007 graduate of Colchester High, would later join the Vermont National Guard with full knowledge that he would be deployed to Afghanistan, and he then went overseas in 2009. Upon returning, he struggled with post traumatic stress -- some of that stemming from losing two members of his unit: Sgt. Tristan Southworth and Sgt. Steven Deluzio. Josh later took his own life on Sept. 23, 2014.
“He just never came home,” said Valerie. “And he's not the only one. 22 veterans end their life every day in our country, and we need to do better than that. We're much better than that.”
Valerie went on to tell how she and her husband, Greg, then reached out to Josh’s service member friends and asked what they needed -- and what Josh might have needed to help him. They replied saying they would really just like a place to reconnect and socialize with one another. The non-profit organization was founded in 2016 and has since worked to raise funds to secure property in which the Pallotta’s could set up a wellness recreation center in their son’s name.
This past November, the fund was finally able to find a space in Fort Ethan Allen on the Colchester side of the border, in Josh’s hometown, right where the former VA Clinic used to be.
“Which, I think, is kind of ironic,” said Valerie.
Conversations with Josh’s veteran friends then helped his parents find the right name for the facility.
“One of them who was deployed with him said, ‘Let's call it Josh's House, because when people ask me where I'm going, I want to say, ‘I'm going over to Josh's house,’’” Valerie recounted.
The plans for Josh’s House VT are to have it include chiropractic, aromatherapy, massage, and a recreation area with a pool table donated by the Essex VFW. Renovations have begun, but permitting issues have slowed down the process. Still, Valerie is optimistic about its future and is appreciative of all the support the fund has received.
“So many people have donated,” she said. “Thanks to Darrell and people like you, who just want to give back to the community, we've been able to do this. It's people who donate on Facebook -- doing a birthday fundraiser… Each person has donated $25 or $10, and that little amount is huge because it gets us to where we need to be to support our veterans who have felt left behind. So I'll end that with. If you're struggling to talk to somebody, and if you're struggling and you feel like nobody will care and that it'll be easier for your family members and loved ones if you weren't here, I can tell you that that is 100 percent not true.”
Langworthy then went on to deliver a passionate, patriotic speech which included quotes from the Declaration of Independence, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, and George W. Bush.
“I thank each and every one of you for coming out here today. Let's remember how important this day is,” Langworthy concluded before giving the mic back to Valerie.
The emcee then kicked off the parade, exclaiming, “Start your engines!”