Perhaps you had guessed that there are a large number of veterans living in Santa Cruz County, but did you know that the estimated total of veterans in the county is around 800? This number is no surprise to Donna Lua of Veteran’s Outreach, who serves lunch and provides a pantry for up to 60 veterans on Wednesdays, using food from Second Harvest Food Bank.
Donna began Veterans Outreach two years ago, hosting a lunch at the Veteran’s Service Office on Emeline Ave. A year later, she added a pantry to the lunch. This year, the lunch has moved to the Veteran’s Memorial Building on Front St. in downtown Santa Cruz. The move has expanded the outreach, as more veterans are able to commute to the downtown location.
The veterans are grateful to receive a healthy, home-cooked meal that is not out of a box. For some of them, it is the only hot meal they eat all week. On a rainy day in February, Donna and her five volunteers are serving spaghetti with meat sauce and vegetables, with a tossed salad on the side. About 80% of the food used in the meal comes from Second Harvest Food Bank.
After the meal, the veterans are able to “shop” in the pantry for the week’s groceries. Veteran’s Outreach partners with a program for veterans called Wednesday One Stop Shopping, where veterans can come to the Veteran Memorial Building on Wednesdays for a meal, groceries, medical services, housing services, etc. Donna’s hope is that the meal will nourish them, as many of the veterans go without a balanced diet.
It all comes back to that burning question of how so many who serve our country now go without basic needs. Donna tells me, “I’m drawn to service work because I want to serve those that served us. I’ve learned so much about them.” Providing healthy foods for veterans indeed is a step toward improving post-war quality of life.