I met my wife, Donna, in the Philippines. We decided to live in the States where I had a six-figure job in criminal defense intelligence, top security clearance and a bright future. But the time I spent at war in the early 2000s resulted in an injury and a depression so severe that I ended up losing my steady job. From there, things began to spiral, and over the next several years our family lost everything – our home, cars and all our savings. We moved back to the Philippines and lived with Donna’s family. It was she, finally, who convinced me to come back to the U.S. and apply for the veteran benefits I had earned through my time in the military – which ended up taking a really long time to come through. We arrived with our two kids in Scranton, Penn. with no benefits yet, we had nothing; we were literally digging through dresser drawers for money for food. Someone pointed me to our local food pantry. The people there helped us immediately and without question. Suddenly it seemed like my life was turning around.
My veteran benefits finally kicked in last fall, not long after the birth of our youngest son. We bought our home and stocked the cupboards with food, and I immediately began volunteering driving a van for the food pantry three days a week – picking up food donations from local grocers to distribute at the pantry. Living is not enough; you’ve still got to have something to live for. When we show up at the housing projects with cookies and the kids’ faces light up, I feel like I’m doing something. It doesn’t matter if I’m not getting paid – my payment is something that money can’t buy. I am helping others, just like my family was helped when we needed it most.