It was six years ago when Mummer Bill Mulligan, a recovering alcoholic, went to the Philadelphia Veterans Comfort House and realized the limited resources the city’s veterans had.
“I went in there and they brought us into the kitchen and they basically had nothing in that cupboard,” said Mulligan, who was there to participate in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. “These are veterans who served our country.”
At the time, Mulligan was lucky to be alive. The previous year, he had a tumor removed from his brain. Still reeling from the surgery, Mulligan had a newfound appreciation for life and wanted to do what he could to help people in need.
“I had just recovered from having the brain surgery and said, I need to help somebody because I was given a second chance.”
As a result, Mulligan started Mummers for Veterans, an annual event at Toll Man Joe’s that raises money and donations for different veterans organizations. The Philadelphia Veterans Comfort House had been the beneficiary until this past event. The Comfort House was renamed HAVEN Women, which focuses only on veterans who are women. Mulligan, wanting the benefit to maintain its focus on all veterans, donated all of this past year’s proceeds to the Veterans Multi-Service Center in Old City.
“They take homeless veterans or veterans in need to doctors’ appointments, give them job training,” said Mulligan, who is a longtime member of Bill McIntyre’s Shooting Stars. “They’re a wonderful organization.”
The events, which always occur on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, have an “upbeat” atmosphere, according to Mulligan.
“We know we’re helping a good cause,” said Mulligan. “It brings all the Mummers clubs together – and not in competition like we are on New Year’s Day.”
Another change this year was the event’s name. Because of the passing of “Mummers legend” – as Mulligan puts it – Fran McIntyre, Mulligan changed the official full name of the event to Fran McIntyre Sr.’s Mummers for Veterans Thanksgiving Drive.
“He was one of the kindest guys you’ll ever meet,” McIntyre said. Anything a veteran down on his or her luck could possibly need was donated at the event. That includes, coats, scarves, gloves, underwear and cash.
“This year, we raised over $30,000 in goods, donations and money,” said Mulligan. He said that about $10,000 was donated in checks alone.
Of course, the biggest reason Mulligan organizes the event every year is to make the world a better place and support war heroes in Philadelphia.
“Without what they did for us, there might not be a Mummers Parade,” he said. “There’s a lot of freedoms that these guys protect by serving our country. Nobody should go hungry on Thanksgiving Day as far as I’m concerned.”
But there’s more to it than that. Mulligan wants to prove to the world that Mummers are good people and don’t always deserve the sometimes negative press they get.
“We’re just a very giving bunch of people,” he said. “Most of us are blue-collar South Philadelphians. We give back and we don’t get the credit that we deserve.”
Mulligan says that Mummers from all different divisions – string bands, comics, fancy brigades, you name it – participate in the event.
“We try to make a difference in the community,” he said. “And I think we do.”