Episcopalians Paying It Forward to Veterans at the US Vets Center in Phoenix
by Deacon Michael Douglas, Vietnam Veteran
Every Friday volunteers from five Episcopal churches in the NW Phoenix area prepare and serve hot lunches to approximately 85-100 veterans housed at the US VETS Center, a non-profit that provides housing for homeless veterans, and disabled veterans, & very limited-income veterans.
This significant, but the little-known partnership was started back in 2014 by USAF veteran Mr. Richard Brown, Coordinator of the Brotherhood of St Andrew, & the Outreach Ministry of All Saints of the Desert, Sun City. They saw a need, & took action to help.
The US Vets Center in Phoenix is a converted 134-room motel that houses veteran residents. Their rooms have hot plates, microwaves, & mini-refrigerators—but no kitchen & no meal service. A full, hot meal makes a huge difference in their quality of life. Soon, four other Episcopal parishes joined in serving in this ministry, & together they make & serve over 4,000 hot meals a year.
Navy veteran & resident Maurice McKinney, who is wheelchair-bound, has lived at the US VETS Center since a stroke changed his life three years ago. McKinney is Friday hot lunch regular, and these hot meals–together with other services provided at the center–have been a major lifeline for McKinney.
St. Andrews-Glendale, St. John the Baptist-Glendale, All Saints of the Desert-Sun City, & St. Peter’s-Litchfield Park—support the Friday lunch program, each serving one Friday a month. When there is a 5th Friday, Advent Episcopal Church in Sun City West jumps in. Volunteers at each church are characterized by diversity—veterans, military spouses, adult children of military families, neighbors, refugees from war-impacted nations— and by a shared call to honor & serve those who have served & sacrificed so much.
Uyen Crabb, a volunteer from St. Peter’s Litchfield Park considers “doing things for veterans…is truly a gift from God allowing me to say: Thank you for this wonderful country that I live in from the sacrifices of all veterans and their families of all generations.” Cheryl Shimer, also of St Peter’s & a 20-year military wife, knows first-hand what a commitment our Vets made to our country. “I want to help and honor them with the little bit that I do.”
In addition to expressing gratitude, a powerful fellowship is a major part of the US VETS Center lunch ministry. CAPTAIN, US Navy (Ret.) Buz Isban, & a volunteer from St. John the Baptist in Glendale, was called to this ministry in 2016 upon realizing not all veterans make a smooth transition to civilian life. “Seeing a veteran in need really touches my heart,” remarked Isban. He emphasizes the program’s human connection. “Sitting down with another human being, and breaking bread is like sitting down to a meal with your neighbor.” Veteran Karl Larson (St. Peter’s) says that by serving veterans directly he remembers “the camaraderie that exists between people that have served in the military. And the ministry deepens participant understanding of the military experience”.
When the group from St. Andrews, Glendale arrived to serve on their designated Friday in February, the mouth-watering aroma of their chicken fajitas filled the air, veterans lined up for their meal. Said one volunteer, “We decided upon getting involved in this ministry that we would serve only the best food, meals that we would serve our own families.”
This ministry is based on needs, & there are many needs. In Arizona, there are 20,000+ active duty service members, 20,000+ National Guard & Reserve members, & 600,000+ veterans in Arizona, with numbers increasing every year. And these numbers do not include family members, spouses, parents, significant others, siblings, civilian employees of the military, retirees, & Gold Star, families.
Is it time for your parish to serve those who served? Want to get involved, or start a veteran ministry but don’t know where to start? Check out our Veterans Ministry page or email Rev. Laura Adelia, Veteran Ministry, Episcopal Diocese of Arizona at: firstname.lastname@example.org .