Austin veterans worked hard to deck out the Austin Veterans Peace Garden, 5413 W. Madison St., with holiday lights by the start of December. But even after everything was up and running, their work wasn’t done.

Throughout December, the Austin Veterans Community Organization (AVCO) has opened the garden to the public every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. 

There are veteran volunteers to greet the visitors, offering Santa hats and snacks and answering any questions the visitors may have. If fellow veterans stop by, the volunteers see if they need any help and connect them with any resources they may need. 

While this wasn’t the first time veterans put up Christmas decorations, this was by far the most ambitious display and the first time they had volunteers present. AVCO members said they wanted to do something positive for the community, bring attention to Austin veterans and help veterans who may not realize what kind of resources and programs they can access.

The Veterans Community Garden was developed by the South Austin Neighborhood Association (SANA), with help from NeighborSpace, a nonprofit that helps community organizations build and operate community gardens. 

The garden was meant to be a community asset, a way to honor local veterans and a place where veterans and active-duty service members could come together to talk and support each other. 

As Murray Williams, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Germany during the Vietnam War, explained in an earlier interview, the garden gives them a place where “the can come and sit down and talk about their service, and any kind of problem.” 

AVCO was established in the summer of 2019 in order to raise awareness about the veterans, collect donations for veterans in need, and connect veterans with programs and resources. 

Terry Redmond, SANA’s treasurer, an AVCO spokesperson and a U.S. Air Force veteran, said that they used a gas-powered generator instead of solar panels to make the lights brighter. AVCO member John Tibbs, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam, was the engineer for this year’s display, while Redmond came up with the overall display design. 

The display was made possible by donations from the Austin Coming Together, Prestige Food & Liquors and MacArthur’s restaurant, which is located across the street from the garden.

“[As] people were coming through, they were saying that it was wonderful, that it was beautiful, that it was amazing,” Redmond said. “Sometimes, they asked us to take their pictures with the lights.”

Matthew Williams, who served in the U.S. Navy  said that he liked the display, and that he appreciated the patriotic red, white and blue lights. 

“It’s really beautiful, you know,” he reflected. “Just the neighborhood vibe in our community. The music is drawing people in, and the lights are drawing people in to come and enjoy the garden.”

For more information about AVCO and its volunteering, e-mail avcoveterans@gmail.com