On the third Monday of every month, you’ll find American Red Cross volunteers and folks from the Texas Veterans Network at work. They prepare to serve hundreds of people looking for food.
Whether it’s breaking down pallets of groceries delivered by the North Tarrant Food Bank or assembling go-home boxes, one thing is certain: everyone is here to support our veterans and provide vital services.
Hello, my name is Alan Ruiz and I’m a Regional Communications Manager for the North Texas Red Cross. I want to share with you the wonderful experience I had during my first year as a volunteer at the Services to the Armed Forces (SAF) mobile pantry events in Fort Worth.
I joined the North Texas Red Cross in May 2022. During my enrollment in school, I was introduced to the SAF and the various programs they administer and events they host throughout the region. As I was looking for opportunities to continue the Red Cross mission, a volunteer event caught my interest.
SAF hosted a mobile pantry at the Fort Worth Veterans Affairs (VA) Clinic in South Fort Worth. Like many Red Cross first responders, I arrived on that warm August day with a bit of anxiety, not knowing what to expect or who I would meet at the event.
After signing my name on the attendance sheet, I was quickly greeted by Gus Cabarcus of the Texas Veterans Network. Gus gave me a short tutorial on tasks, responsibilities and a general overview of the operation.
A crowd of cars gathered in the parking lot, and soon they slowly made their way through the parking lot to the tents where we pitched. Gus, I and 12 volunteers staffed our respective posts and the VA operation of the mobile pantry was up and running.
During the workday I spoke to several volunteers and staff. I wanted to better understand why they volunteer.
Gus was the first person I spoke to. He and I worked side by side, loading care packages into vehicles. He said he wants to “connect veterans and families to our community, coordinate resources and build a stronger network of support through organizational collaboration” for those in need.
The Texas Veterans Network acts as “a single entry point for more than 250 veteran service organizations with more than 1,200 unique resources. They help streamline the connection between veterans and supportive organizations like the Red Cross.”
The mobile plaque also had the benefit of giving Gus a chance to network with other volunteers and commemorate their service to their country with other veterans.
Another person I met at the event was Nellie Serrano, a regional program manager for SAF at the North Texas Red Cross. I complemented Nellie on the number of SAF volunteers present working at the event. I asked her how important it is not only to volunteer, but also to help at SAF events.
“It’s important that others volunteer their time at VA events because making a difference in the lives of others doesn’t have to be a challenge,” she said. “The simple generosity of time not only gives you a sense of community, fun and fulfillment, but also impacts our community and gives back to veterans who gave so much to our country.”
Over the next four hours, our group of volunteers loaded pallets worth of groceries. I remember being blown away by what I saw that day.
Volunteers from different organizations and walks of life came together to take on the role of greeter, caseworker, or product distributor…all in the spirit of supporting our veterans and doing something good in our community.
Around noon our event ended and the volunteers started breaking down boxes, stacking pallets and cleaning the food serving area. The mobile board was a complete success. We gave out 150 boxes of groceries to veterans. I ended my volunteering with a good dose of hugs and punches with everyone who helped.
I’ve been even more involved since August. I attended the events in September, October, November and December. While the number of visitors to the Pantry varies, the genuine appreciation and friendliness is a constant. The next mobile pantry will be held in March at the Office of Veterans Affairs on South Campus Drive in Fort Worth.
If you would like to share my experience and help our Veterans, please visit Volunteer Connection and sign up as a volunteer for your next opportunity.