Veterans from the Army and Navy military branches tend to expend some brotherly and sisterly ribbing of each other before the annual Army vs. Navy football game each year. This year, employees at the Amarillo VA Health Care System decided to take it to another level and challenge each other with a food drive for Housing First Veterans.

“We wanted to raise funds and donations after hearing that our Housing First Veterans program was running low on food in their food pantry,” said Velia Ruiz, a Navy Veteran and program support assistant for the Amarillo VA Health Care System Community and Patient Relations Service.

“It was our goal to make certain we could keep our Veterans food secure during the holiday season,” she continued. “And, at the same time, to have some fun with our fellow employees by challenging each other: Who could raise the most in donations, Army or Navy?”

Like the real Army vs. Navy game on Dec. 12, the challenge did result in an Army victory after the final food drive donations were totaled. The end results: A food pantry overflowing with donations available to Veterans in need.

“We’ve run out of storage space.”

“This food drive was just an amazing thing,” said Teena Hall, AVAHCS Housing First Coordinator. “Our employees donated so much food we’ve actually run out of space in our normal storage areas. It shows how our staff really does respond to a challenge to support our Veterans.”

Employees challenged each other with a food drive for Housing First Veterans.

In total, more than $915 in gift cards for local grocery stores and more than 2,000 food or hygiene items were donated during the Amarillo VA’s Army vs. Navy 2-week challenge, with Army winning by a 233-point margin over their Navy counterparts.

“Who won? Our Veterans.”

“Thankfully, as a Navy Veteran, we weren’t shutout like the real game this past Saturday,” Ruiz said. “However, I’m glad that my fellow Veterans and those employees who care for our Veterans showed up in a real sign of support for our fellow Veterans in need during these tough times.”

Hall agreed with Ruiz, in that, everyone in the Housing First Program was just blown away in the support of their Veterans.

“We truly were blessed with the enthusiasm in the challenge as the pandemic has taken a toll on our Veterans’ ability to stay food secure over the last few months,” Hall said. “I could also see that genuine excitement as I would walk through our hospital. Several employees kept asking me ‘Who was winning, Army or Navy?’ I just kept saying our Veterans are the ones who are really winning, so please keep on donating!”


Joel Mease is a public affairs officer at the Amarillo VA Health Care System.

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