Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Three Dinners at Veteran Village

(from one of my more amazing online students AMH2020) 

The secret mission that I chose was to go to the Veteran's Village located in Tallahassee and feed the veterans. The reason I chose this mission, at first, was because it was offered by the professor and cooking for forty people is not too daunting of a task. My reason morphed with each time I went and now these people feel more like friends than I ever thought possible. It turned out, that my life would be forever changed after this assignment. Prior to this assignment, I did not even know the Veteran's Village existed. This housing arena was made to create an opportunity for veterans to get back on their feet. So for the first time, I entered this community room of this establishment. As a class, we were serving breakfast for dinner. I came armed with cheese grits and regular grits to go along with a spread that included pancakes, quiche, sausage, bacon and other delectable breakfast treats. The first encounter I had was with a man, about my age, who made me immediately feel welcome. I didn't know anybody there, as I am an online student, so I was slightly nervous about being in this unfamiliar ground. This man broke me out of my shell and made it easy for me to start interacting with others. As the veterans started entering the community room, myself and other students began serving them our homemade breakfast treats. I assisted them with scooping portions of the foods they desired to eat, and I even make made to order omelets for some. There was such a sense of belonging while I was there. Because of the way that I felt, when I left that night, I signed up to feed them the next week.
The next week was a barbeque theme with pulled pork, pulled chicken and typical side dishes. There was also to be a macaroni and cheese competition. I make macaroni and cheese that is always getting rave reviews by the people that eat it. So I decided to make a crock pot full of this delectable cheese and noodle dish. After two and half pounds of cheese, and some other ingredients, it was ready for the veterans. I brought it to the Veteran's Village and served it with pride. It was gone in about 25 minutes. The difference between this night and the previous time was that the veterans were very open to talk to me because they had seen me before. This put an instant smile on my face. I enjoyed talking to them about anything they wanted to talk about. Sometimes they asked about me and sometimes they shared information about their dreams and aspirations. When I went home that night, I talked to my roommate and friends about my experience. They were all very supportive and thought it was a great idea. They also wanted to partake in an event. So I signed up, yet again, to go back.
This time I was the leader. It was right before Independence Day. I picked this particular day because it was so close to a holiday that had great meaning to those men and women who fought in war. I wanted to make sure they got the chance to celebrate the meaning of this day. I gathered some friends and we put together a cookout. There were hamburgers and hotdogs, being made right outside, plus chips, salad, dessert and drinks. By this point the veterans felt more like friends than anything else. I felt quite comfortable just walking into the community room and setting things up. With the help of my friends, and some new friends (classmates) I was able to serve each person hamburgers and/or hotdogs. I got to look each one of them in the eye as I asked them what they would like to eat. I also was able to converse freely with people, that just a few weeks prior, were strangers. One of my friends, that came along, was in the military along with her mother. Her mother suffers from PTSD and has trouble dealing with emotions that have been present for so many years. We were talking, when there was a lull in the action, about what this meal means to these people.
The one thing that stands out to me most from this experience, is a comment that has been made by several different veterans. The mention that they always know they will get to eat on Thursdays. This meant so much to me, from the very first time that I heard it. I have a very demanding career as a nurse and I feel like I earn the money that I have, but giving up $50 (or an outfit) so somebody else can eat is more rewarding than I ever thought possible. Have I always been the kind of person to try to help somebody else if I can, absolutely. But there is something different about it when it starts out with a person who you have no connection with. This bond that keeps growing with each time that I walk through those doors. These people recognize me and look excited to see me. I honestly don't think their excitement is about the food that is being provided, but the opportunity to interact with others. Interacting may not be an easy thing for them because of PTSD but many of them are putting themselves out there and trying.
There is not one thing that I learned from this experience, there are many. It has meant so much more to me than a grade could ever mean. These men and women are what kept this country going and there is no way to ever actually repay them. 1They have taught me so much about myself. I had struggles growing up, not with food or money but with family. I was physically abused from a young age until I was in my twenties but never felt sorry for myself because I had a bed to sleep in and got to do things that I enjoyed. I started working at a young age in order to help my grandparents because they had stepped in to be parents for my brother and I. Unfortunately, I was the only female they had ever raised, except my mentally retarded aunt. I didn't know how to be girly like so many of the other girls my age and my grandparents often judged how I looked. Sometimes I have anxiety about new people and what they will think of me because I didn't fit in. Being a nurse, I talk to people all the time, but these people see me as a nurse so they almost immediately trust me. When I am a regular person this isn't a given. These men and women made me feel welcome and like I can achieve anything if I put enough effort into it. I also learned that people, right in my backyard, are struggling to eat more than once a week and I am sometimes eating past the point of being full. There will never come a day when I stop talking about this experience. It has made me more aware of the things that aren't being broadcasted for all to see.
What I would like to pass on is a message that says to look around. There are people struggling and bad things happening all around us. There is no big sign on the door that broadcasts it. Whether it be little or big, make an imprint on somebody's life so that they can see the change in themselves that I saw in myself.