Oscar Oros spent eight years serving our country in the army. He was based in Germany and deployed multiple times to Iraq. After leaving, he worked as an army contractor for five years. But when the budget got tight, Oscar was laid off. With a wife and young daughter to provide for and no income coming in, Oscar wasn’t sure what to do --- so he decided to ask for help.
Oscar turned to a church—the Unitarian Universalist Community of El Paso, which had just formed a small committee to address local veterans’ issues. They gave him food to help him make ends meet during this tough time. Oscar was so grateful for their service that he wanted to help them help even more vets, so he joined up with the committee—led by a fellow veteran, and tanker named Stephen—to launch a new 501(c)(3) organization by the name of Veterans Non Profit, (VNP), a community organization that now offers food, clothing and mental health services to veterans in need.
El Paso, Texas is home to Fort Bliss, the army’s second-largest base that houses nearly 9,000 army members and their families. Many members stick around El Paso when they get out, and consequently, the city has a high population of veterans.
“Veterans have been through a lot, and a lot of them get lost when they get out—kind of like I did,” said Oscar. “So instead of leaving them to the wind, we thought, we’re a good military community, we need to continue to help each other out. We figured that in order for veterans to overcome tough times, they first have to be able to meet their basic needs. So we decided to open a food pantry.”
In 2013, Stephen and volunteers from the church opened the doors to their food pantry—served by Feeding America member El Pasoans Fighting Hunger. They expected to serve 15-22 veterans a month. But that first month they served 40 and the numbers continued to grow. By the end of their first year they were serving 220 veterans a month and could no longer fit all the food they needed in their current space.
The VNP raised funds to incorporate as a separate entity and relocate to a bigger building and expand their services. They realized that in addition to food, veterans needed clothing—specifically dress clothes for interviewing—and Peer to Peer, veteran to veteran PTSD support groups. So the VNP opened a clothing closet and began offering counseling services. It now serves more than 343 veterans a month.
“The veterans that we serve here are extremely grateful,” Oscar says. “They say that before us, they didn’t really have anywhere to go—much like how I felt before going to the church. We’re really filling a critical service gap in this big military community. I always knew there was a need, but I’m still surprised at how fast we’ve grown.”
Oscar, who is now vice president of the VNP, hopes that in the future the pantry will continue to grow. He wants to offer more services to the veterans who served our country. He understands firsthand, how far a helping hand can go in times of need—since he was once there himself. After receiving support from the church, Oscar was able to get back on his feet enough to enroll in school full time to earn his bachelors in business administration, in hopes of providing his family with a brighter future. “I went from a veteran in need to a veteran who can now help,” says Oscar. “And I hope that through the VNP, I can help others make that transformation as well.”
*Colleen Callahan is a communications manager and content producer at Feeding America.Tags: Hunger Heroes , Hunger in America , Texas , El Pasoans Fighting Hunger