The Georgia National Fair is back and ready to celebrate 32 years of agriculture, music, rides, special attractions– and of course, food! Ask anyone in the Peach State what the best part of the fair is, and it’s a safe bet that the deep-fried, sugar-powdered, cheesy, crunchy, grilled to perfection, and bacon-wrapped delicacies of the midway will top any list! Returning in 2021, VFW Post 6126 has been with the GNFA since the beginning, marking the occasion as a fundraiser for the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States organization and multiple entities throughout Central Georgia. It’s an endeavor punctuated by the post’s signature ribeye steak sandwich that’s been bringing admirers back for over three decades.
“The Longhorn Butcher shop out of Perry, Georgia has been our supplier for years,” says Clayton Laughlin, a 32-year veteran of the Air Force and member of Post 6126. “They supply the meat for us– the hamburgers and the ribeye sandwiches. They cut it to the specs that we want. It’s about a quarter-pound of a steak that comes in there, and we get those things right from the butcher shop. So they’re fresh as they can be!”
As well as a member, Laughlin has been the post’s quartermaster and adjutant, and he’s quick to point out the community support that’s made the VFW’s steak sandwich so successful.
“We have developed a following with people who come out there and support us every year. They look for our booth. They come out there to have a sandwich, sit around and talk with us, meet some people. We have individuals who come out there to visit the booth for the very first time, but they end up just meeting some of the veterans and talking.”
Of course, part of the fun is being together around the grill and sharing in the fair atmosphere.
“Everybody likes to congregate around the grill, just like everybody likes to congregate around the kitchen at someone’s house. When we’re out there cooking and we’re out there talking, it’s a social environment that brings people to us,” says Laughlin. “All of our volunteers, whether they’re Boy Scouts, whether they’re people from the active-duty Air Force or Air National Guard, whether they’re auxiliary members, whether they’re active members, all of those people volunteering out there, putting in their time and effort and socializing with the people that come out to enjoy our steak sandwich [are] putting the face of the veteran out there with our product, [allowing] us to accomplish our mission, which is to do whatever we can to help veterans in this area.”
VFW Post 6126 has been supporting veterans for 75 years, and its overall reach continues to grow.
“Our slogan is, ‘Nobody does more for veterans.’ The VFW overall is really a lobbyist organization for veteran causes with Congress both federally and state. In order to do that, they need the power of representation through veterans to form more members,” says Laughlin. “What we do for the community is exactly what the motto says: We help veterans. And we don’t just help veterans in Perry, Georgia. We’re not limited there. We do it to Central Georgia. We do it for the state.”
The steak sandwich and concession booth at the fair is the post’s annual fundraiser, often raising upwards of $15,000 for local charities and groups dedicated to helping veterans.
“We’ve donated to Comfort Farms out of Milledgeville, to Home Port out of Macon. These are veteran organizations. One’s for PTSD and one’s for homeless vets in Macon. We have sponsored a junior ROTC member from every high school in the Houston County area, and we continued to do so. We have also helped local veterans who need help paying rent. We’ve helped any veteran who was just traveling through the area, their car breaks down and they need cash to help with their car. They contact us and we help get their car fixed and get them back on their way,” says Laughlin, who also hopes to see more veterans join the VFW to continue the mission and receive the support they need.
“We want them to wander into the big building there at the Georgia National Fair, talk to the district members, and if they are a veteran of a foreign war, we want ’em to get signed up for our organization to help us do the things that we do to support veterans around the community and around the state.”
After shifting to alternate fundraising in 2020 due to pandemic concerns, Laughlin says Post 6126 will be dedicating this year’s booth to the memories of members Larry Baker, Bonnie Bryant, and Judy Poss.
“These were three wonderful souls who helped make our post a success,” says Laughlin.
So what’s Clayton Laughlin’s favorite part of the Georgia National Fair?
“The people! The staff that you work with at the Georgia National Fairgrounds, they’re amazing, amazing people. And to have a vendor booth in there where you get to communicate and work with them firsthand, that’s an awesome adventure in itself. But the people that come up to the booth? We’ll have repeat visitors who will come back two or three days. We have the fireworks right behind us, so a lot of people come to congregate in that area,” says Laughlin. “Everybody wants to talk to the veterans, and it’s absolutely the greatest people that stop by to say, ‘Thank you for your service, thank you for your time, thank you for your steak sandwich.’ The people are phenomenal!”