ELKO — It’s a year of firsts for the POW*MIA Elko Awareness Association.
For the first time in the 40-plus year history of the National League of Families, the board of directors is coming to Elko to host its quarterly meeting. The league, whose mission is to bring home prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action, will arrive in Elko in conjunction with the sixth annual chili feed hosted by the Elko association.
Last year, the chili feed raised more than $18,000, which went directly to the National League of Families. The Elko branch placed fifth in the nation, only ranking below four other states, as the entity most successful at raising awareness on the POW/MIA mission and the quest to bring soldiers home, said chief commanding officer of the Elko association Les Brown.
“This is the first time they’ve held a meeting outside of Washington, D.C., in about 40 years, so this is a huge deal for Elko,” Brown said.
On Friday, the board of directors for the National League of Families is hosting its quarterly meeting at the Hilton Garden Inn.
On Saturday, starting at 4 p.m. at the Elko Convention Center, is the annual chili feed and auction. Opening ceremonies, featuring members of the League of Families, will begin at 5 p.m., followed by dinner and the auction.
Lacy Rourke, national coordinator for the league, said coming to support the chili feed in Elko is a small way for them to give back to the community’s efforts.
“The people of Elko and the POW*MIA Elko Awareness Association has been so supportive of the League of Families throughout the years and the support the Elko community gives through the awareness association has been so great and so meaningful to us,” Rourke said. “It’s a small thing that we can give back, but we’re really looking forward to it.”
For the first time in the chili feed’s six year history, a representative from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, based in Honolulu, will attend the event. JPAC is the world’s largest skeletal forensics laboratory, Brown said. On average, JPAC identifies two missing persons every week.
The Red Lion Hotel & Casino, Gold Dust West, Hilton Garden Inn and local individuals have donated chili.
“The list of people who have donated is astronomical,” Brown said. “Everyone in this community is donating something. It’s incredible.”
The family event features games and raffle prizes for children, with a slew of prizes donated by Ruby Mountain Pawn.
Donated auction items include newly purchased arcade games, a horse and custom-made POW/MIA pistol. The cost to eat is a $5 donation for ages 9 and older. All uniformed personnel including military, law enforcement, firefighters and paramedics eat for free.
The chili feed started as a small effort six years ago, when it raised $500. Since then it has grown in size and organizers have had to book larger venues each year.
“The last three years we’ve turned people away because we’ve had no room left for anyone, and I don’t want to turn anyone away,” Brown said. “The convention center has been absolutely phenomenal with helping us put this on this year.”
Although Elko is a highly patriotic community, Brown said, the reason people rally around the POW*MIA Elko Awareness Association is because its members grasp the mission. There are 83,000 Americans unreturned from past conflicts dating back to World War II.
“That number represents a single individual,” Brown said. “Then think about the family members of that single individual and if that single individual only has four family members wondering what the hell happened to my loved one that quadruples to tens of thousands waiting for answers ...”
The goal of the association is to spread the word as much as possible and bring closure to families.
“Our mission is the fullest possible accounting for those 83,000,” Brown said.
Residents who have questions as to how to find their loved ones missing from conflict, or about how they can help with the National League of Families’ mission, will have their opportunity on Sunday.
The League of Families board of directors, the JPAC representative, the local awareness association and surrounding organizations from Idaho, Utah and Nevada will host a meet-and-greet at 9 a.m. Sunday at the Elko Convention Center. The event will be an open forum where people can ask questions and discuss issues with the various organizations.
“I encourage people to come and ask us questions,” Brown said. “If they have a loved one in their family missing, that’s the time to ask the questions and find out what can you do to find your loved one.”
The forum is open to everyone.
For information about the POW*MIA Elko Awareness Association, visit www.elkonvpowmia.org.