More than 50 friends, along with the Minooka fire and police departments, filled Twin Rail Pub and eagerly waited to congratulate Sergio Lopez on Friday as he arrived in his new car, which was given to him as a thank you for his selfless service to our country while enlisted in the Army and as a civilian who serves our country’s veterans.
As he roared into the parking lot with his fully loaded 2016 Chevrolet Camaro SS, pub owner Scott Breslar met his friend and patron outside to be the first to congratulate him on his new car.
In 2006, Lopez suffered a career-ending injury when he lost both of his legs below the knee from an improvised explosive device while he served his second tour in Iraq.
“I was in the Army for four years, and I would have stayed in longer, but I was unable to serve due to my injuries,” Lopez said.
Since he has left the Army, Lopez has worked with organizations to help veterans in need. One organization in particular piqued his interest, and he has been a fundraiser for Associated Firefighters of Illinois [AFFI] Warrior Program, which began in 2012.
The program buys new vehicles for injured veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, said Tim O’Brien, chairman of AFFI Warrior Program.
“I like to help in a small way. I go with them [AFFI] to talk to people and tell my story, in hopes that it will help the next veteran. I want to pay it forward with the money I help raise – and I know with this organization, 100 percent goes to the veterans,” Lopez said.
Lopez, a regular customer at Twin Rail Pub in Minooka, asked manager Kristy Kromm if he could bring T-shirts and cards to sell at the pub to support the Warrior Program. In that short time, more than $1,000 was raised, and the AFFI took notice.
“Sergio always comes out to assist other veterans because he is grateful, and never receives anything,” O’Brien said. “So when we were looking for a recipient, I put his name into the committee and their eyes lit up and said. ‘Why haven’t we done something for him yet?’ ” O’Brien said.
On Friday, Lopez entered the filled pub and received handshakes of thanks from fellow veterans. Before the drinks and food began, O’Brien spoke about why and how Lopez received this gift.
“When we selected Sergio, we had to tell him the car was for someone else,” O’Brien said. “He asked if he could get cards and shirts to take to a local pub and, when I let him know the car was for him, he said people are going to think I’m hustling them for my own car. To show you what kind of guy he is, we were working this morning on a house for a Marine in a wheelchair.”
Jim Collette of Minooka has been a friend of Lopez for a couple of years and said there was no one who deserved it more.
“He would bend over backward and give the shirt off his back – literally. He bought shirts to sell and one night someone wanted this shirt off of his back, so he gave it to him,” Collette said.
O’Brien said the car was bought at a great discount thanks to DeKalb-Sycamore Chevrolet, Cadillac and GMC, and further funds were raised by the DeKalb Firefighters and David Hochberg of Perl Mortgage. He also stated that they raised more than needed for this car, so the extra funds went to home repairs for a disabled Marine.