In a show of gratitude to those who served, a barbecue is set for local veterans and their families on Sunday, July 5 at Coconut Cove Resort in Islamorada. 

The annual event, put on by The Long Walk Home and founder Ron Zaleski, will feature a day of enjoyment and relaxation with food, entertainment, games and silent auctions. Zaleski said the day gives veterans the chance to connect and converse with others who’ve gone and continue to work through similar struggles. 

“If you went on a roller coaster with six people, those people can share the experience of the ride. Other people watching think they know what happened but they were not on the ride,” Zaleski said. “Vets who understand where other vets are coming from can share their experiences and get it off their chest.”

Zaleski is known for his 3,400-mile journey barefoot across America from Concord, Massachusetts to Santa Monica, California in 2010 to raise awareness of an alarming statistic: 18 veterans a day commit suicide. The alarming statistic of the now 22 suicides a day is just the tip of the iceberg with the collateral damage, homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction, and spousal and child abuse.

Gaining recognition for his efforts from the U.S. Veterans Affairs Subcommittee, Zaleski felt compelled to continue the work and provide outreach to veterans needing a helping hand. Then came the creation of the nonprofit The Long Walk Home. The organization provides various services, including gym discounts for vets at Mack’s Gym in Key Largo, swims with dolphins at Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder in Key Largo and backcountry fishing trips with R & R Fishing and Ben Trainer, a Marine veteran. Proceeds from the barbecue will go to Trainer’s free fishing program for vets. 

“We’ve done a lot with Trainer,” Zaleski said. “It’s been really beneficial to the guys who take advantage of what he offers.”

The event takes place from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Coconut Cove Resort, MM 84.8. To ensure the safety of those in attendance, Zaleski said volunteers in masks and gloves will be on hand to take temperatures. 

“I want to reach out to guys,” Zaleski said. “People don’t go for help if they don’t come to this. I know a lot of people are stressed and scared, and this is a good place to let it out.”

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