OAKBROOK TERRACE, Ill. (WLS) — For nearly a decade, car dealerships across Chicagoland have worked together to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for a critical nonprofit serving our servicemen and women.

This truly is a community effort every year. For the past nine years, nearly $950,000 has been raised for USO Illinois. The funds support 350,000 military families annually.

Mark your calendars for July 16, when dealerships across the area are going to be firing up their grills for a USO BBQ for the Troops, where much of that money will be raised for USO Illinois.

“We really started this nine years ago and it started in a small capacity of just a BBQ grill and a tin can and it’s morphed into a really big party,” said JC Phelan, chairman of the Chicago Automobile Trade Association.

To preview the event, there are interesting military vehicles on display at the Chicago Automobile Trade Association headquarters in Oakbrook Terrace, along with some of the latest vehicles across the auto industry.

“USO has been proud to be the force behind the forces, keeping our service members connected to family, home and country throughout their service to our nation,” said Christopher Schmidt, executive director of USO Illinois.

Not only do they do great work here, but Schmidt said USO is also operating 21 separate locations servicing service members that have been sent to Eastern Europe.

“In Illinois, we operate 10 USO centers,” Schmidt said. “You recognize those at our airports obviously at O’Hare and Midway, as well as at military installations across Chicagoland and across the state.”

For veterans, this barbecue is a chance to share some of these historic military vehicles with the community while also shining a light on how we can give back to those who wear our nation’s uniform.

Richard Mix Jr. has served for years in the U.S. Air Force and has traveled all over the world.

“You can meet a GI from another branch of the service he was in or you were in,” Mix said, “it doesn’t matter because you both have a bond and a kinship. You know what the other person went through.”

Mix said the USO BBQ is a reminder of the sacrifices of service members and their families.

“It’s very gratifying to know that the people actually stand behind us,” he said. “Now, people will walk up to you and say thank you for your service. They don’t know who you are, but just thank you.”

For more information, visit the USO BBQ for the Troops website.

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