'Standing our ground': Crowd gathers in New Freedom to support tenants ordered out of VFW homes
A massive banner that read "Nice 'pillar' of the community you have there" loomed only a few houses down from the Veterans of Foreign War Post 7012 in New Freedom, where protesters gathered Saturday to protest the organization.
A crowd of about 50 showed up with signs of their own to oppose the VFW's decision to give six families 90 days to vacate post-owned property. The news caught the attention of locals, out-of-state residents and a government official who all came to show their support.
"If we don't band together, those families could be out on the street," said Laurie Desantis, who stood with protesters at the corner of West Main Street and Chestnut Alley.
The New Freedom resident said even though she just recovered from foot surgery a week prior, she said she wouldn't miss the protest for anything. She added that while she sees both sides of the argument, Post 7012 should give the families more time to move out.
Letters were sent out July 10 to the six families stating their leases would be terminated in October, affecting all occupants of three houses on West Main Street and North 3rd Street in the borough.
VFW Post 7012 cited challenges associated with COVID-19 as the reason.
Kyle Hopkins, a member and chaplain to the organization, was one of a few members who spoke out and voted against the decision. He later received a cease-and-desist order from the organization for "prejudice" and "disobedience" for speaking to the media.
Hopkins, who helped organize Saturday's protest, said VFW Post 7012's decision to boot tenants was "immoral."
"We're standing our ground, and we're showing our solidarity with these families," he said.
Dozens of cars blasted their horns in support, as protesters waved signs that read "Vet for the community" and "Just wait until the pandemic is over."
Hopkins passed out face masks and water during the protest and directed residents to stand at designated social distancing markers on the ground.
Among those in attendance was Dave Reisdorf, a member of the New Freedom borough council.
"I don't think that throwing these people out right now is the right thing to do," Reisdorf said. "I get that they're trying to figure out how to save money, but this is absolutely not the right time to do that."
Though Reisdorf holds a council position, he said the borough council will not get involved in the business of VFW Post 7012. He also said he wasn't attending the protest on behalf of the council, but rather as a friend to Hopkins and the six families.
All residents occupying post-owned property are still required to pay monthly rent until the lease terminates on Oct. 15. Each tenant pays at least $500 a month, including utilities.
No officials from VFW Post 7012 showed up to Saturday's protest.
— Reach Tina Locurto at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.