Texas high school students volunteer with veteran mobile food pantry as part of DAV-supported leadership development program
With the support of DAV and nonprofit Team America, a group of high school students from Godley Independent School District (ISD) in Godley, Texas, have partnered with the Fort Worth VA Outpatient Clinic and the Tarrant Area Food Bank to help distribute meals during a mobile food pantry event for area veterans facing food insecurity.
RC Shields, a specialist with the VA North Texas Healthcare System Center for Development and Civic Engagement, organized the event—the first of its kind in the region for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“The more that we collaborate with other organizations, the more that we collaborate with community, the greater that we can serve the vets,” said Shields. “Without the collaboration, we can’t serve vets to the fullest.”
Jason Hill, a coach with Godley High School, said his school’s students were invited to participate because of their involvement with the Tomlinson Center for Leadership, a development program founded by former NFL football player and Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson as part of his Team America organization. DAV is a supporting partner of Team America.
“Partnerships like the one DAV has with Team America are an effective way to introduce volunteering to a younger generation,” said National Voluntary Services Director John Kleindienst. “The opportunity Godley’s students had to serve veterans in their community hopefully inspires them to seek out more ways to help veterans.”
Kleindienst said there are plans to offer more schools participating in the Tomlinson Center for Leadership program opportunities to volunteer with veterans through DAV.
For Hill, the hours the students spent volunteering that early Monday morning, which was a day off for the school district, are part of the push to develop them into elite citizens.
“Leadership is about serving others,” said Hill. “And what better way to typify that than going and serving at the VA and being able to serve veterans.”
Before the cars started lining up, the group of students worked together to fill boxes with nearly 50 pounds of food. Each box contained an assortment of fresh produce, eggs, dairy and dry goods, and the students handed out the boxes to recipients as they arrived.
Organizers, including Shields and Team America representative Aubrey McDade, encouraged the students to not just hand food out but engage with the veterans as well.
“A lot of the stories they had just in that short 30 to 45 seconds of them driving through … showed us how much they appreciated us being there,” said Nathan Wisely, a senior at Godley.
Wisely said the appreciation veterans showed also helped keep the students’ energy up throughout the morning that, for them, started before sunrise.
After food distribution ended, the students had time to eat lunch and talk with some of the veterans at the center. One veteran in particular was so impressed with the students’ genuine engagement and effort that he wrote an email to Hill.
“In this day and age, it does not seem like young people really have the time or interest, but I saw your group working early in the parking lot and then going around talking to different veterans,” wrote Steve Mix, who was at the VA that morning for a checkup.
Sophomore Payton DeFoor said the day made her more thankful for what she has and helped her gain a better understanding of what some veterans have been through.
McDade, a Marine veteran and Navy Cross recipient, said that Team America encourages volunteer events for students in its leadership development program because they have a transformational impact on students, help them learn that leadership means service and that they should strive to be people of character. He also said volunteer service ties into the organization’s hallmarks of inclusiveness, tolerance and character development.
“They did an amazing job,” said McDade.
For Shields, partnerships like the one between the VA and DAV are critical because they introduce new groups of people to the needs of veterans and fuel a passion for volunteerism. It’s DAV’s partnership with Team America that paved the way for Godley ISD’s participation during this mobile food pantry.
“If we’re going to be successful for veterans, we’ve got to have everybody involved,” said Shields. “It takes a whole team to really serve veterans like they need to be served.”
For more information about Team America, visit teamamerica.org. To learn about volunteer opportunities with DAV, visit VolunteerforVeterans.org.