By Todd DePastino, Veterans Breakfast Club
Western Pennsylvania is home to one of the largest veteran populations in the country. From Pearl Harbor and Bastogne to Fallujah to Kandahar, our region has veterans who have served on every battle front over the past 75 years. “These veterans are all around us, and each has a story to tell, no matter where or how they served. All you need to do is ask,” says Todd DePastino, Executive Director for the Veterans Breakfast Club. “And that’s why we created the Veterans Breakfast Club: to get veterans together with their families, friend, and neighbors and have the vets share stories of their service.”
The Veterans Breakfast Club is a local nonprofit founded in 2008 whose mission is to create communities of listening around veterans and their stories so that this living history is never forgotten. They believe that through their work people will be educated, healed and inspired.
Each year, the organization holds over 60 breakfast events at twenty different locations throughout Western Pennsylvania, including Baldwin, Whitehall, Pleasant Hills, and Bethel Park. There are no membership dues or requirements and everyone is welcome to attend, including non-veterans. In fact, DePastino, who is not a veteran, believes that those who haven’t served often get the most out of the storytelling. “It’s a learning experience for those of us who never served in the armed forces,” he says.
Breakfasts begin at 8:30am, and the program starts at 9:00am. DePastino emcees the event, making his way around the room with a microphone inviting veterans to share a story about their service. “You never know what you’re going to hear,” he explains. “Some of the stories are funny, some are heartbreaking, but they all are important because they are our history.”
Last year, the organization launched evening events as part of a special Post-9/11 Veterans Storytelling Project to reach our youngest veterans whose stories need to be heard. These events feature appetizers, beverages and storytelling and mix veterans and members of the public of all ages.
In 2016, over 4,000 people attended Veterans Breakfast Club events. “They come to listen and to learn, to share, to heal, and to say thank you to those who’ve served,” says DePastino.
The Veterans Breakfast Club also runs the Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh Oral History Project.
Over the past few years, Veterans Voices has recorded hundreds of veteran interviews, which are edited and posted on their website and are also being archived at the Heinz History Center, along with thousands of supporting photographs and documents.
Every veteran has a story. Consider attending a breakfast and hearing some. “I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed,” says DePastino.