On the third Monday of every month, you can find American Red Cross volunteers and folks from the Texas Veterans Network busy at work. They’re getting ready to serve hundreds of people looking for food.
Whether it’s breaking down pallets of food delivered by the North Tarrant Food Bank or assembling go-home boxes, one thing is certain: everyone is here to support and provide life essential services for our veterans.
Hi, my name is Alan Ruiz and I’m a regional communications manager for the North Texas Red Cross. I’d like to tell you about the wonderful experiences I’ve had volunteering at Services to the Armed Forces (SAF) mobile pantry events in Fort Worth during my first year on the job.
I joined the Red Cross of North Texas in May of 2022. During my onboarding, I was introduced to the SAF and the various programs they manage and events they host across the region. As I looked for ways to further embrace the Red Cross mission, one volunteer event caught my interest.
SAF was hosting a mobile food pantry at the Fort Worth Veterans Affairs (VA) Clinic in South Fort Worth. Like many first time Red Cross volunteers, I arrived that warm August day with a bit of anxiety, not knowing what to expect or who I’d meet at the event.
After I signed my name onto the attendance sheet, I was quickly greeted by Gus Cabarcus from the Texas Veterans Network. Gus gave me a brief tutorial about tasks, responsibilities and general overview of the operation.
A slew of cars gathered in the parking lot, and soon they slowly made their way through the parking lot headed toward the tents where we set up. Gus, I and 12 volunteers manned our respective posts, and the VA mobile pantry operation was up and running.
Throughout the workday, I spoke with several volunteers and staff. I wanted to get a better understanding of why they were volunteering.
Gus was the first person I talked to. He and I were worked side by side, loading care packages into vehicles. He said that he wanted to “connect veterans and families to our community, coordinate resources and build a stronger support network through organizational collaboration” for those in need.
The Texas Veterans Network acts as “a single point of entry for more than 250 veteran service organizations with more than 1,200 unique resources. They help streamline the connection between the veterans and helpful organizations like the Red Cross.”
The mobile food bank also had the perks of providing Gus an opportunity to network with other volunteers and reminisce with other veterans about their service to their country.
Another person I met at the event was Nellie Serrano, who is a regional program manager for SAF for the Red Cross North Texas. I complemented Nellie on the number of SAF volunteers in attendance helping staff the event. I asked her about the importance of not only volunteering but helping with SAF events.
“It is important that others volunteer their time at VA events because making a difference in the lives of others does not have to be challenging,” she said. “The simple generosity of time not only provides you with a sense of community, fun and fulfillment, but it also makes an impact to our community and gives back to veterans who have given so much to our country.”
Over the next four hours, our group of volunteers loaded several pallets worth of food. I recall being overwhelmed with appreciation by what I saw that day.
Volunteers from various organizations and walks of life came together to fulfill the role of greeter, caseworker or product distributor… all in spirit of supporting our veterans and doing some good in our community.
By noon, our event ended, and volunteers began breaking down boxes, stacking pallets and cleaning up the food distribution area. The mobile food bank was a huge success. We distributed 150 boxes full of food to veterans. I concluded my volunteer experience with a good dose of hugs and fist bumps with everyone who helped.
Since August, I have become even more involved. I attended the September, October, November, and December events. While the number of people visiting the pantry has varied, the genuine appreciation and kindness is a constant. The next mobile pantry will be held at the Veterans Affairs office on South Campus Drive in Fort Worth in March.
If you’d like to share my experience and help our veterans, please visit Volunteer Connection and sign up for your next volunteer opportunity.