Hotel & Restaurant Management
The Art Institute of Pittsburgh — Online Division
I would encourage everyone to spend some time either volunteering, donating, or just visiting at your local VFW/American Legion post or Veteran’s hospital/clinics. Gaye Warren, Ed. D , Culinary Instructor , The Art Institute of Pittsburgh — Online Division
Interview By Emadene Travers, Full Time Faculty Culinary Management
Our spotlight this month features Dr. Gaye Warren (Lead Faculty for The Art Institute of Pittsburgh – Online Division Culinary Management and Hotel Restaurant Management programs) who is a volunteer for the Veterans of Foreign Wars/American Legion Auxiliary in Ferndale, California. Every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas Gaye helps organize a holiday meal for veterans many of whom are elderly, wounded, or homeless. She is also the treasurer of the Auxiliary and serves as their volunteer grant writer. Gaye has been affiliated with the Auxiliary for over 10 years. Recently I talked with Dr. Warren and learned more about the true meaning of her volunteer efforts.
Dr. T: What motivated you to become involved with the Auxiliary?
Dr. W: My father was a career military officer 25 years in the Air Force and served in WWII so the military has been a big part of my life. For that reason I enjoy working with veterans groups to honor my father and his service to our country. I also believe our military deserves not only our respect but our support especially those older vets who are alone, the homeless, and wounded.
Dr. T: Do you have any current statistics?
Dr. W: Here are some stats* and they are staggering:
· Gulf War-era veterans now account for the largest share of all U.S. veterans, surpassing Vietnam-era veterans.
- Nine-in-ten veterans (91%) are men while 9% are women
- The highest number of living veterans is in California.
- 11% of the adult homeless population is veterans/40,056 veterans are homeless on any given night.
- 20 percent of the vets who served in either Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from either major depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.
- 25 percent of returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans showed signs of substance abuse disorder.
- Number of veterans living below poverty: 1,248,000 – 400,000 over the age of 65.
*Source: National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. N.d. Web. 17 Sept. 2018.
Dr. T: What can you tell us about the holiday meal event?
Dr. W: Every year the Auxiliary puts on a free holiday dinner between Thanksgiving and Christmas for the entire north coast Humboldt County active and veteran population and their families. We focus on the veterans in need and homeless population. We also invite all the volunteers throughout the year as well to thank them for their time in service to vets. We can serve anywhere between 200 and 300 people.
Dr. T: What role do you play in facilitating the event?
Dr. W: My role is to coordinate all the official invitations to all the posts, members, and organizations working with at risk vet groups. I also shop and cook the entire meal with several volunteers who have done this dinner for well over 20 years. It is quite the spread and includes old favorites for our 70 and over vets and a few modern twists for the younger military. It literally is 3 days to shop/prep/cook and we are fortunate to have a wonderful commercial kitchen at the post to work with for the event.
Dr. T: What’s on the menu?
Dr. W: The meal is entirely done from scratch: Turkey, Ham, Mashed Potatoes, Stuffing, Gravy, Green Beans, Cranberries, their favorite Jell-O mold, Salad (my recipe with Gorgonzola cheese, caramelized pecans, dried cranberries, and mandarin oranges with a sweet Balsamic dressing), homemade rolls, and dessert which changes every year.
Dr. T: Sounds delicious! What is the duration of the event?
Dr. W: The day of the event starts at 8am to midnight which includes all the cooking, service (we have FFA high school seniors serve the event), and the dreaded clean-up. Fortunately, we have volunteers that come the next day to do all the dishes.
The event itself runs from 5:30 – 9 pm. They also do a fun auction of donated items as well as Toys for Tots drive.
Dr. T: What’s the most rewarding part of your work in putting on this event?
Dr. W: The best part of this event is the camaraderie of having all the vets in one room together. There is a common bond among veterans and active military and it’s their stories that bind veterans together. For most civilians they can’t understand such a bond, but this shared experience is part of what makes our vets so special. For me, it is an honor to serve them and there is no more appreciative guest than a vet.
Dr. T: What’s the biggest challenge?
Dr. W: The biggest challenge is we don’t take reservations so we have learned to prepare the right amount of food to cover all the guests. I am proud to say we have not run out of food once in all the years I have been doing the event.
Dr. T: Any advice for those who would like to do the same or similar volunteer work?
Dr. W: I would encourage everyone to spend some time either volunteering, donating, or just visiting at your local VFW/American Legion post or Veteran’s hospital/clinics. If eligible, join the auxiliary which supports the veterans. They will be your vets in your community and I can guarantee you not only will you be surprised how many are in need, but it will also be an amazing experience spending time with such extraordinary individuals.