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Kyle Larson kicks off Stars and Stripes weekend at Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital

Kyle Larson assists veterans at the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital.

Chicagoland Speedway’s Stars and Stripes weekend, June 28-July 1, will be the largest celebration of active duty military and veterans in the track’s history. NASCAR driver Kyle Larson was in Chicago on Thursday to kick things off.

Larson started his day at the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital, where he assisted in the veterans’ food pantry.  By the end of the day, 130 veterans had made their way through the line, grabbing everything from milk to canned goods. Everything provided is supplemental food that helps them get through the month because many can’t regularly afford to buy groceries.

“I couldn’t get along with out it,” World War II veteran Oscar Olson said. “I live on my social security and it just doesn’t cover everything.”

The greater Chicago food depository makes deliveries every Thursday morning before the veterans arrive at 11 a.m. Tables are stacked with milk, eggs, meat, vegetables, produce and much more before the veterans pass through with their carts and plastic bags.

This Thursday a new face was on the other side of the table — Larson’s.

The NASCAR driver shook hands and shared stories upon his arrival before he slipped on a pair of blue rubber gloves and got to work. Larson spent the first half of his time at the VA Hospital behind a table, handing out different food items. The second half was spent helping veterans through the line, packaging and bagging their groceries.

“Any time there is somebody out of the ordinary showing their respect for veterans is special,” food pantry coordinator Jim Stein said. “He got to see what we experience every week. It’s important to show people there are a number of veterans out there that need assistance.”

To accommodate all of the veterans in the area, the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital food pantry is available only once a month to each veteran.

The Chicagoland Speedway’s Stars and Stripes weekend will provide an interactive experience that honors all who serve and have served. Larson knows it’s nothing new for NASCAR to show support for the military and expressed pride in being part of a community that does such a great job at it.

From now until the time of his race at Chicagoland Speedway, Larson will be working to raise money for the U.S. Veterans Organization along with other organizations through an online campaign. Larson’s sponsor, Credit One Bank, kicked things off with a donation of $25,000 and the goal is to raise $42,000 by race weekend.

“We wouldn’t be able to race and have fun like we do if it wasn’t for those who have served before us or are currently serving,” Larson said. “NASCAR does a great job supporting the military.”