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Remembering to Smile

Thanksgiving week is a time when many local volunteer served organizations can be low on help. Since Chris Paradiso had put “help in a soup kitchen” on my #50for50 I thought this time of year might be best to offer assistance.

I posted on Facebook asking if any of my Western NC friends knew of immediate needs for volunteering in local nonprofits. I had several great suggestions that I have saved for future reference but one that I knew I wanted to make happen. Rosa Loftis suggested I come along WITH her to help ABCCM with their veterans program.

I met Rosa online via Jared Bellmund of Allchoice Insurance about a year ago. She’s a rising star in the local insurance community working for Dan Gilbert Agency in Fletcher. Getting to meet her in person finally was a definite bonus to the suggestion.

Learn more about Rosa here.

Learn more about Jared here.

However it was the opportunity to serve homeless vets that appealed to me. My fathers (both the man that I call Daddy and my late biological father) are both veterans. My brother in law is a veteran. My nephew is active duty. Many other relatives and friends are veterans.

Rosa made arrangements with Daniel Szemple for us to serve as kitchen helpers on the Wednesday night before Thanksvmgiving at the Veterans Restoration Quarters. This is a division of the ABCCM in Buncombe County.

The veterans program with ABCCM started back in 1984 after Marine Sergeant J. D. Buckner, was found frozen to death off Lexington Avenue in Asheville. The VRQ (Veterans Restoration Quarters) was created in 2008 and houses up to 250 men as well as providing many other services to help transition homeless vets into permanent housing and life solutions. They also have a separate shelter for female veterans called Steadfast House.

Learn more about ABCCM


That night Rosa and I were instructed on how to serve the pork loin, rice and collard greens to the veterans at VRQ. Chef John had done a great job with the food and several veteran residents that serve in the kitchen were helpful to get us our hair nets and gloves. We were introduced prior to the meal to the nearly 100 veterans already waiting in line for dinner. Then unexpectedly we were asked if either Rosa or I could give the blessing.

I didn’t even glance at Rosa (but she told me later it was ok because she had been fighting a cough) before I jumped in and asked everyone to bow their heads. I thanked God for the opportunity to break bread with these men, that the Lord might be with each person in the room regardless of where they were in their hearts, and to nourish their bodies with the meal then closed in Jesus’ name.

On the way home I thought of all the other things I could’ve said but at the time I was too busy getting behind the cafeteria line to serve food to worry about that. Rosa was super fast at pulling trays, adding pork loin and a scoop of rice then handing to me for the collard greens.

Rosa and me – with lunch lady accessories

My only job you see, was adding collard greens to each serving tray. And yet for the first 5 minutes I could only concentrate on draining my spoon and serving a relatively equal amount to each tray. I murmured thanks to each man and kept scooping until it dawned on me my job wasn’t just to scoop greens.

I looked up at the next man in line and clearly said thank you as I handed him his tray.

Then I smiled at the next man.

And the next.

Although imperfect in evenly distributing the collard greens I did my very best job of seeing and smiling for every veteran who came through.

More trickled in as the hour progressed. Rosa and I were able to chat and get to know each other better. It was definitely more fun to be beside her and share in the experience.

I continued to focus on smiling and seeing these men.

Some smiled back. Some said thank you and shuffled off without a glance. Some didn’t say a word or even notice me.

The ones that did see me look them in the eye and smile as I handed them their trays were overwhelmingly appreciative.

Chef John rang the bell signaling second helpings were available. We served a second round of food to about a dozen veterans.

Then it was done.

We were reassured clean up was almost complete and there were residents that would finish. It felt like I hadn’t contributed much. But Chef John thanked us as the usual crew that handled Wednesdays were all away for the holiday.

The kitchen staff could’ve handled, but us being there allowed them to clean up all the cooking and other prep areas while the veterans were served.

More importantly I knew my job there had been to pray.

To smile with gratitude.

And to see these veterans.

Not looking at them as homeless or hurting but see them as men of honor that have served the United States in Afghanistan. Iraq. Vietnam. And many other distant lands.

If you are in WNC and would like to help the VRQ then please go to ABCCM and explore. You can plug in with volunteering, donating needed items or money. Just whatever you feel called to do. I am giving to this ministry today in addition to my short volunteer contribution.

I appreciate Rosa for letting me come with her. I am happy for this suggestion on my #50for50 from my friend Chris Paradiso, who is inspiring in giving back to his community in Connecticut (learn more about Chris here. ) I’m so blessed to have friends like both of them in the insurance industry. It’s proof that despite the competitive environment of insurance that we are better together.

Also thanks to ABCCM’s VRQ volunteer coordinator, Daniel Szemple, and the kitchen staff for making us feel welcome and needed.

My big thanks however is to the men and women veterans and those still serving around the world in the US Armed Forces.

I see you and thank you for all you have done and do to protect our freedom.

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