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Oliver bar says thanks to veterans with fundraiser for those in need

Rose and Mark Sweeney drove up from South Carolina in time to attend the fundraiser for homeless veterans sponsored by the El Dorado Bar and Grill in Oliver on Saturday. The couple is in the process of moving to Winter, Wis. (Bob King / / 4
Steve Saari (left), regional director of the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans, talks with Al McCallie of Mahtowa at the El Dorado Bar and Grill in Oliver on Saturday at a fundraiser for homeless veterans. McCallie served in Vietnam. (Bob King / / 4
Greg Hinnenkamp of Duluth buys a raffle ticket from Beth Schoen at the El Dorado Bar and Grill in Oliver on Saturday. Money from the raffle and other donations will be used to help homeless veterans. It was the bar’s second annual fundraiser for the cause. (Bob King / / 4
August Stoffel of Esko tosses a horseshoe Saturday in a game played at the El Dorado Bar and Grill in Oliver, where people gathered to donate money toward helping homeless veterans. (Bob King / / 4

When Rose and Mark Sweeney learned about an upcoming fundraiser for homeless veterans, they kicked their plans to relocate from South Carolina to the Northland into high gear.

The couple scrambled to make it to the Twin Ports this weekend, stopping along the way to place a deposit on a home in Winter, Wis. They made it just in time to attend Saturday’s second annual homeless veterans fundraiser at the El Dorado Bar and Grill in Oliver.

“We heard they were having this, so we tried to time it to get here, and by God we made it,” said Mark Sweeney, who served in the U.S. Army Special Forces. “Being a vet myself, I thought it was a good cause. I’d like to pitch in and help any way I can.”

Dozens of people turned out for food, games, music and raffle prizes offered at the event. Todd Pfeffer, who has owned the bar for 11 years, organized the first event last year as a way to lend support to struggling veterans.

That first event raised more than $3,000, and Pfeffer was hoping for similar results this year. All of the money raised goes to the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans in Duluth, which operates a transitional housing program in West Duluth and provides other emergency assistance for veterans.

Pfeffer’s father served in World War II, and his brother and two sons also have military experience. Pfeffer said their service inspired him to turn the bar’s customer appreciation day into a fundraiser for veterans. He came up with the idea of offering free food and asking for donations in return.

“The government doesn’t always spend money the way we want them to,” Pfeffer said. “What better way to help out than to give back this way and help out the guys who served us?”

 Along with the annual fundraising event, the bar holds a meat raffle every Wednesday night, with proceeds going to MACV. Last year, Pfeffer said, the bar raised a grand total of more than $16,000 for veterans.

Steve Saari, the regional director for MACV in Duluth, was in attendance at the fundraiser. He said the El Dorado has been instrumental in helping the program raise money and publicity. The fundraisers have spurred numerous donations from businesses and individuals, he noted.

“These people here fill a gap in services that we don’t have any other grants for,” Saari said. “It’s wonderful to see the community come together and help us fill a gap in supplying the food and personal hygiene items for the homeless veterans in our transitional housing program.”

Saari said many veterans turn to MACV because they are facing physical and mental disabilities, substance abuse problems, lack of employment and legal issues.

“Our veterans are coming to us with a variety of barriers to being in stable housing,” he said. “When you start combining some of these things, it makes it very difficult to maintain your housing. We try to help them get over those barriers, or remove them if we can.”

Pfeffer said he doesn’t want to be alone in his quest to support homeless veterans through his business.

“I challenge anybody out there, any other bar or restaurant, to do the same. Find a cause for veterans, or for homeless people, and do the same thing,” he said. “Help somebody out. It’s a lot of work, but you know what? You can’t believe the feeling that it gives you.”

For more information: Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans,