TAMPA, Fla. - On the northwest corner of the Ikea parking lot in Tampa, a holiday mission to serve those who served our country was underway Thursday morning.
Boxes of Thanksgiving turkeys and fixings were being loaded by a dozen volunteers, to be delivered to deserving military veterans across Hillsborough County.
Every year, the mentor program of the Hillsborough County Veterans Treatment Court feeds the most deserving in our community: military veterans.
"We go by the premise of, we leave no soldier, sailor, Marine, airmen behind," said retired U.S. Army Col. DJ Reyes, who organizes the effort. "And with that spirit and in the holiday season, one of the most essential and critical things we look for is feeding our troops."
Veterans serving other veterans on Thanksgiving in Hillsborough County
Tampa Judge Michael Scionti oversees Veteran's Treatment Court, which helps vets who struggled with legal troubles get back on their feet and on the right path.
"It shows our veterans who struggle that our community cares," explained Scionti.
The need for help grows every year. Thankfully, so do the donations from community partners like Idlewild Baptist Church, and individuals like Gold Star mom Annette Kirk, who lost her son in combat 12 years ago.
"It’s taking me a long time to heal. Every day, I still think about my son, Paul. Our family will never be the same, however, it’s things like this where I’m giving back, I’m continuing his service, I feel," she said.
This year, the special deliveries make it to 60 veterans staying at New Beginnings of Tampa, a transitional housing and recovery program.
"We’re going to have our own Thanksgiving," said veteran Bob Hurst said with a smile.
And that is what it’s all about, says Dr. Tom Atkinson, pastor of New Beginnings.
"Trying to serve them, trying to help them get their lives back," he explained.