‘It’s a whole community effort’: Brandin’ Iron in West Point holds 4th annual Thanksgiving meal for local veterans

WWII veteran, 99-year-old Julian Campbell, with his wife Marie at The Brandin’ Iron Monday (Heather Mann for The Cullman Tribune)

WEST POINT, Ala. – In 2018, the Brandin’ Iron Steakhouse in West Point served free Thanksgiving meals to more than 850 veterans and their families; this year, General Manager Josh Speakman said he hopes that number will be more than 1,000 this year. Now in its fourth year, the Brandin’ Iron’s annual veterans’ Thanksgiving initiative partners with local nonprofit Saving Forgotten Warriors (SFW) and other local businesses and organizations to provide free meals to veterans and their families or caretakers just before Thanksgiving. The event took place Monday.

These meals are served at the restaurant, but are also delivered to homebound veterans as far as Lawrence County with the help of the Cullman County Sheriff’s Office. 

The entire restaurant was decked out in posters and drawings honoring veterans and service members, which Speakman said were all from local elementary schools.

“You know it’s so close to Veterans Day, and all the elementary schools usually do some activities or crafts for it, so we had (Cullman County Schools) Superintendent (Dr. Shane) Barnette send out an email to all the elementary schools asking them to hang on to those projects for us to use,” he said. “Everything that you see is from all over the county.”

The volunteers and extra help also came from all over the county – the Cold Springs National Honor Society raised money throughout the year, as did the West Point Schools, and West Point Middle School offered the use of its cafeteria during the weekend to help start preparing the food.

When asked how much food the event uses, Speakman said he had no idea other than “a whole lot.”

He recounted his weekend of preparation, saying, “We had about nine cases of sweet potatoes donated by Haynes Farms. I’m not sure how much that is in pounds, but I was up until 3 Saturday morning baking them for the sweet potato casserole. I forget how may pounds of ham we had, but I was slicing it for nine hours. Seven cases of large green beans, and I don’t even know how many turkeys we had.”

Speakman, who is also on the board for SFW, said he wanted to do something that would make a big impact on the local veterans after he joined the board, and figured that serving food was the logical choice since he already worked at the restaurant.

SFW Founder Jeremy Hogan said Thanksgiving meals were a great way to celebrate local veterans and everything they’ve done for the community.

“This is by far my favorite event of the year. You look around and see all the schools’ decorations, the sheriff’s deputies came in to do home deliveries, it’s a whole community effort,” Hogan explained. “This is something we plan all year round because this is the one major event for SFW. It’s our chance to really thank all the veterans. This isn’t about charity, it’s not just for the veterans who have no food – but we always want to help them, too – but it’s for all the veterans in the community and being able to give a little bit back to them.”

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WWII veteran Talmadge Drake enjoys his meal Monday at The Brandin’ Iron. (Heather Mann for The Cullman Tribune)
A volunteer helps serve meals to veterans Monday at The Brandin’ Iron in West Point. (Heather Mann for The Cullman Tribune)

Heather Mann