Construction at the Canandaigua VA means the canteen has to go

CANANDAIGUA — The Blue Star Canteen is without a home and seeking a new location, although its mission of helping veterans remains in place.

The canteen, which was located on the campus of the Canandaigua VA Medical Hospital, moved out of the 19th-century structure last week and over the weekend, according to Joyce Mader, president of the local chapter of the nonprofit Blue Star Mothers troops- and veterans-support organization.

The move was necessitated by construction work for the Community Living Center cottages, which are being built for veterans and are slated to be completed December 2023.

The canteen had served as a place for veterans, troops and their families to gather, relax, enjoy dinner and socialize in a homelike atmosphere since opening in 2009.

“We’re still going to provide for the veterans the best we can,” Mader said. “We’re on the lookout for a new location. We’d like to keep it in Ontario County.”

The organization was given 48 hours notice of the need to move out, Mader said.

Bruce Tucker, director of the VA Finger Lakes Healthcare System, which includes locations in Canandaigua and Bath, personally called Mader to apologize and explain the reason for the move, according to VA spokeswoman Kathleen E. Hider.

“Due to the enormous amount of construction happening at the Canandaigua VA and all the moving pieces that go along with the project, including many moves both internally and externally and COVID 19 guidelines and restrictions, it was unfortunate that we were not able to provide notice sooner,” Hider said in an email.

Mader said she has “no beef” with the VA, from which the organization had obtained a lease in exchange for renovating and maintaining the home, which had been vacant for several years before it was transformed into the World War II-style canteen.

“They’ve treated us well,” Mader said.

The Blue Star Mothers will continue to provide clothing and personal effects to veterans in need as well as help out veterans living in Liberty Village and Cadence Square housing, Mader said.

“We still can fulfill food orders if we have enough notice,” Mader said.

Still, those efforts will be done from donated space as well as “garages, sunrooms and laundry rooms” until a permanent home can be found, she said.

The past week has been rough, but Mader said you either learn to change or go under.

“We’re changing. We’re not going to go away, but right now we’re homeless,” Mader said. “I want to thank everybody in the community. Everybody is so kind and so good. You’re nothing without community.”