The Downtown LaGrange Development Authority raises most money in 14 Years for veteran organization through annual Sip and Shop fundraiser

Published 9:04 am Wednesday, December 20, 2023

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The Downtown LaGrange Development Authority presented the Veterans Fishing Organization with a check for $3,000 on Tuesday morning.

The funds were raised through the annual Sip and Shop event which hit its 14th anniversary this year. This year, the DLDA chose to fundraise for the veterans of LaGrange to honor their sacrifices. 

Director of Promotions and Marketing for DLDA, Lily Hamilton, had a special connection to the fundraiser as she expressed love and appreciation for the veterans in her life.

“Growing up, I had veterans in my family, so I’ve always had a bunch of respect instilled in me from a young age and I appreciate the sacrifices they make,” Hamilton said. “So this year when we were trying to come up with a nonprofit to be the beneficiary, I voiced that I would love to choose a veteran-based organization.”

The Veterans Fishing Organization is a local non-profit that offers combat veterans an opportunity to enjoy a day out fishing in fresh water. The organization was founded in 2016 by Ken Bearden, a fisher with over 40 years of experience in fishing and professional guiding. 

Bearden came up with the idea after watching his close of over a decade friend die from cancer caused by serving in Vietnam. As Bearden’s friend, Joe Gilham, underwent cancer treatment, he took Gilham out fishing to help lift his spirits. 

When Gilham passed in 2013, Bearden made a decision to give back to veterans who sacrificed for their country by starting a non-profit to take them fishing, providing a therapeutic experience.

“Once he passed away his wife kept telling me how much it meant for me to take him out fishing during that period,” Bearden said. “So we started an organization for combat veterans to go fishing as well at absolutely no cost to them.”

According to the National Veterans Foundation, over 9,000 veterans a year commit suicide due to poor mental health. Bearden hopes to reduce that number through his organization, giving many veterans a second chance.

“There are about 22 veterans a day committing suicide, mostly from PTSD trying to deal with civilian life,” Bearden said. “Being in the military, they’ve been told what to wear, where to go, and what to eat, but then all sudden, they lose that and they don’t know what to do with themselves, but being out in the waters provides therapy.”

Bearden hopes to raise more funds for the organization soon to continue providing its free services to veterans of the community. 

“We have got to get the town behind this organization and find more donors,” Bearden said. “We struggle month to month and sometimes I have to take money out of my own pocket to put it towards our expenses to keep the organization going.”