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South Texas VA gets creative for Veterans Day Celebration

Home of the Brave group

The South Texas Veterans Health Care System (STVHCS) and its Fisher House love celebrating Veterans Day, but COVID-19 has made that a challenge.

The South Texas Fisher House has traditionally honored Vets through the “Home of the Brave” event for the last seven years. It is quite an affair with catering and live bands for the few hundred veterans normally in attendance.

For safety’s sake, the new normal replaces hugs with hand sanitizer and barbecue with boxed lunches. 

Making safety the top priority, Fisher House manager, Erik Zielinski, devised a contactless, drive-thru appreciation lunch for Veterans and their families on November 10.

“It was humbling to honor veterans, service members and their families during the Home of the Brave drive-thru lunch at Fisher House,” Zielinski said.   “Despite the challenges of COVID-19, Fisher House has remained a “Home away from Home” for families and heroes as they undergo treatment at the South Texas Veterans Health Care System.”

It didn’t take long for the word to spread before a line of cars formed on the Fisher House property that has an open turn around shaded by palms. Well suited for a drive-thru event.

By 11 a.m., the cars were coming close to backing up onto Wurzbach Road, which Zielinski made sure didn’t happen by passing the cars systematically through his battalion of volunteers.

One of those volunteers, Roxanne Gillette, was handing out lunches and gratitude at the first station. Gillette, who works for Peraton, and often collaborates with Soldier’s Angels, thinks it’s important to volunteer and show appreciation.

“I am here today at the Fisher House because as a Veteran myself I think it is really important to be here and I enjoy doing it,” Gillette said.  

Before the Veterans even got their hands on the donated box lunches, they were saluted and greeted by The American Legion Legion Rider Mark Ochoa who has supported several events at the Fisher House.

No Veteran event is complete without classics like the Armed Forces Service Medley which was generously provided by the United States Air Force Band of the West quintet. Besides the patriotic playlist, the Veterans were appreciative of seeing the uniformed Airmen.     

Vehicle adornments and accoutrements hinted at the diversity of Veterans who came by, from the “Proud Navy Wife” bumper stickers, to Vietnam War hats to Operation OEF t-shirts, you could see that Veteran pride was on full display. It also served as a reminder of the decades of sacrifice that the celebration is built upon.

The event saw over 230 Veterans drive through in less than two hours to not only get lunch, but an appreciation bag and t-shirt from Soldier’s Angels.  USAA employee Jessica Hernandez manned the t-shirt station because she wanted to give back to the community. “The reason I chose to volunteer at the Fisher House is that it gives me the opportunity to see a lot of people that have served our country,” Hernandez said. “We appreciate their service that they gave to us.”

Zielinski chalked the event up as a success and hopes to get back to having all of the Veterans and Fisher House families celebrating together again on the grounds, but no matter what the event will look like, he leans on the team to make it happen.

“I’m so grateful for our team of Fisher House staff, volunteers and community partners that made this event such a success,” Zielinski said.   

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