Photos: ‘Chowder for a Cause’ at Riverhead VFW nets $14K for Don Oliver

Don Oliver has been a hard worker his entire life.

A member of the United States Navy during the Vietnam War, Mr. Oliver then spent the next three decades as a truck driver for numerous companies, traveling from New York to Florida and everywhere in between.

Nearly 20 of those years were spent delivering mail to different post offices in Eastern Suffolk.

So it was no surprise to his wife, Linda, when Mr. Oliver, 69, continued working after he believed he pulled a muscle while loading the post office truck this past February.

“My husband, being my husband, never wants to miss a day of work,” she said. “He figured ‘OK, I have a couple of stops, I’ll be able to do it.’ By the time he made it to the Manorville post office he couldn’t breathe, he thought he was having a heart attack.”

It wasn’t a pulled muscle or heart attack that sent Mr. Oliver, a lifetime Riverhead resident, to the emergency room that day, but instead a collapsed lung. At Peconic Bay Medical Center, doctors reinflated the lung, which Mr. Oliver’s wife credits with saving his life. He wasn’t in the clear yet, though.

A leak was detected and he was transferred to Long Island Jewish Medical Center for surgery, where he spent 10 days.

“The surgery went well, but then he developed some kind of nerve issues,” Ms. Oliver, 62, said. “He was in extreme pain, you couldn’t even touch his hand … It’s getting better, but I think it’s going to take a while because nerves tend to take a very long time.”

Now the man who never wanted to miss a day of work might not be able to return.

In order to help the family continue to pay for their bills without Mr. Oliver’s income, family friend Mason Haas teamed up with numerous local residents and organizations to host a fundraiser for the couple.

Held this past Sunday, “Chowder for a Cause” raised nearly $14,000.

“We’re not trying to build a house for him, we’re trying to help keep him in the house,” said Mr. Haas, the town assessor. “He’s a really nice guy.”

The event, which was a surprise to the couple, featured a Chinese auction as well as food and drinks, including Mr. Haas’s homemade clam chowder, hence the name. Hosted at the Riverhead VFW on Parkway Street, where Mr. Oliver is a member, the event featured friends, family and even strangers who all eager to lend a helping hand.

“Oh my god, it was overwhelming,” Ms. Oliver said of the community support. “I still cry thinking about it. Never in our wildest dreams could we imagine everyone would do that for us … we are both just so overwhelmed and so thankful for everybody.”

Top photo: Sunday’s ‘Chowder for a Cause’ at the Riverhead VFW raised nearly $14,000 to help Don Oliver (seated), a local veteran who served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War. (Credit: Elizabeth Wagner photos)

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From left, Kelly Butti, Linda, Don and Donnie Oliver, Jason Conklin and Kenny Michalouski.
Mr. Oliver surrounded by friends, family and event volunteers.
Event organizer Mason Haas serves his homemade Manhattan clam chowder.

Dennis Greene and Jamie Grieco of the Patriot Guard Riders in Rocky Point.

Local businesses donated gift certificates.
Iago, a toddler from Flanders, checks out the tassels on a Huffy bicycle before it was raffled off.
The U.S. Veterans Motorcycle Club.

Picking raffle prize winners.

One of the grand prizes was a 32-inch television.
Warren McKnight, left, plays the banjo while singing ‘God Bless America’ with assistance from Mr. Haas.