Family pools funds to cheer up VA patients

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An offhand remark by military veteran Darrell Loney set in motion random acts of kindness in his offspring.

The grandchildren of Patti and Darrell Loney of Touchet jumped on the idea and pooled their Christmas money to buy presents for veteran patients at the Jonathan M. Wainwright VA Medical Center, said Linda Wondra, administrative officer to the associate director for patient care services and public affairs officer, in a release.

"What better gift than to give what you already have and share it with someone who has less?"

Patti contacted the VA to get the ball rolling. Her family decided to pool about $200 for their shopping.

"The Loney entourage arrived at approximately 12:45 p.m. at the VA with arms literally full of Christmas colored gift boxes and bags and queued their way to the front of the VA Theater," Linda said.

The veteran patient party in full swing on Dec. 21 aimed to boost recovering veterans in the Residential Rehabilitation Unit during the holiday season.

When the Loney clan arrived, those veterans got an extra holiday injection of cheer.

"Veteran patients were teased earlier during the party that there would be special surprise visitors, but had no clue what was about to happen. Their eyes lit up and all eyes were on the family," Linda said.

Walla Walla VA Director Brian Westfield greeted the family and presented each member with a gold Department of Veterans Affairs commemorative coin along with a set of "America's Heroes" baseball cards that the Walla Walla VA published honoring local veterans who have served their country and thanked the family members for their generosity.

Loney family elves included Brooke, Sydney, Ely and Ryan Kimball and Mckenzie Loney. Not to be left out, cousins away at school Abbie, Alyssa and Ian Smyth also donated their Christmas money to the cause.

Patti and Darrell and daughter Debbie Smyth accompanied the young people in their quest.

"All in all, the group included grandchildren, cousins, children and stepchildren, who wanted nothing else but to bring happiness to veterans who will be celebrating Christmas away from family and friends.

"The smiles were infectious and all were anxious to be able to pick out a gift box or bag. Not a single person went without a present. Extra presents were left for distribution to other veterans. And one veteran patient Yvonne Reilly, presented a gift to the Loney family that she had received just that day - a picture frame into which they could put memory pictures of the event. "What an excellent way to pay it forward. Definitely a win-win situation for the donors and the veterans in our community, Linda said.

Impressed with the family's selfless act, Brian added that "It's encouraging to see young people like this recognizing the contributions of the veterans that live in our community and acknowledging their service in this fashion."

Turns out this area is aflutter with avian species, despite the cold. Members of Blue Mountain Audubon Society know this and set out on Dec. 17 for the annual Christmas Bird Count, a highlight of the year, according to their newsletter, The Magpiper.

Bundled up in warm clothes with binoculars in hand, experienced birders teamed with novices while competing to spot the most birds.

This particular count is vital to conservationists, the newsletter noted. It helps in the strategy to protect birds and their habitat and identify environmental issues with implications for people.

"Local trends in bird populations can indicate habitat fragmentation or signal an immediate environmental threat such as groundwater contamination or poisoning from improper use of pesticides."

In a recap of the event at www.blumtn.org/, Ginger Shoemake said new for this year's count is the lone spotted sandpiper espied by a counter. And for the first time, they saw neither hide nor feather of a Steller's jay or varied thrush. "Total numbers were down from previous years, both number of species, 71, and total number of birds, 12,029." Weather conditions may have hampered the effort as dense fog was below 1,100 feet for most of the counters. Mike and MerryLynn Denny organized the count.

So here's what participants tallied: spotted sandpiper, Anna's hummingbird, brown creeper, hermit thrush, American pipit, fox sparrow, one each; ring-necked duck, Bufflehead, ruffed grouse, Merlin, Wilson's snipe, American dipper, two each; Hairy woodpecker, green-winged teal, common goldeneye, chestnut-backed chickadee, yellow-rumped warbler, dark-eyed junco (slate colored), three each; red-breasted nuthatch, Pacific wren, four each; spotted towhee, five; northern shrike, six; northern harrier, Townsend's solitaire, seven each; sharp-shinned hawk, Cooper's hawk, killdeer, western meadowlark, eight each; belted kingfisher, 12; great blue heron, Bohemian waxwing, 13 each; horned lark, 15; great horned owl, common raven, 16 each; American coot, 20; wood duck, 24; golden-crowned kinglet, 30; ruby-crowned kinglet, 32; downy woodpecker, Bewick's wren, pine siskin, 40 each; ring-necked pheasant, 42; hooded merganser, 47; red-tailed hawk, 61; American kestrel, 68; common merganser, California quail, 98 each; cedar waxwing, 102; mourning dove, 105; American robin, 111; wild turkey, 117; Eurasian collared dove, 120; rock pigeon, 126; black-capped chickadee, 133; American crow, 195; northern flicker, 225; black-billed magpie, 232; American wigeon, 236; song sparrow, 248; American goldfinch, 260; house finch, 479; white-crowned sparrow, 490; mallard, 581; house sparrow, 771; Canada goose, 1,445; dark-eyed junco, 1,446; European starling, 3,781;

These birds were present during the count week but not seen on the day: Western screech owl, American tree sparrow, Cassin's finch, and common redpoll. For more about BMAS, contact house_wren@charter.net or 525-2963 or write P.O. Box 1106, Walla Walla WA 99362.

Etcetera appears in daily and Sunday editions. Annie Charnley Eveland can be reached at annieeveland@wwub.com or 526-8313.

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