Today was an absolute blessing! Several weeks ago I received an email from TAPS (the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) asking those of us in the Atlanta area if we would participate in a project in junction with the Dream 4 Youth Foundation and the Home Depot Foundation to create the infrastructure for a garden that will be used to help feed local homeless veterans. Without thinking twice I said that I would go. For one thing, I always try to participate in events when TAPS asks, and for another, I have a heart for veterans and knew this would be a great opportunity to serve them.
As soon as my kids hopped on the bus this morning I headed down to Atlanta. Two hours later (from what should’ve been a 45 minute drive), I arrived at the site. I really had no idea what to expect except that it was going to be cold and manual labor was involved. I heard on the radio this morning it was going to feel like 13° with the wind-chill! Within a few minutes I was in conversation with Marcus Gaffney, the man behind the garden.
I quickly learned that Markus is an Army veteran who was full of knowledge and passion for helping his fellow vets. Today I learned that 6 out of 10 homeless men in Atlanta are veterans! That number should outrage every American. This country is so quick to send the young to fight and to die for our freedoms, but unfortunately we are also quick to forget about them once they are home – often alone and suffering tremendously.
He told me of one veteran who lost both of his legs and was deemed by the VA to be only 75% disabled. While this man has prosthetic legs, he often still needs his wheelchair and has lost several jobs because he can’t perform the work required while he is in the wheelchair.
Markus and I discussed the suicide rate among veterans. We are both well aware that the reported numbers by the VA of “22/Day” is in all actuality accurately low. Those numbers are only based off of what the VA can account for, however in many veterans are rightfully disillusioned by the VA, and never bother to register with them. Our military makes up only 1% of the population, but accounts for 28% of our nation’s suicides. There are more military members who die from suicide than who have died in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Markus started The 3×3 Project to help address the needs of hunger and nutrition in impoverished urban areas. If I recall correctly, the location we were at today has been vacant for over 40 years. The vision is to take vacant spaces in Atlanta and turn them into community Farmers Market’s. He teaches people how to grow vegetables at home, too, even in an urban area.
This is a wonderful idea on so many levels! Not only will it provide easily accessible nutritional food, it will also provide jobs. What I witnessed today is something that probably has a far more profound effect on the community. In the few short hours that I was there, a handful of people stopped to ask me what was going on. Obviously residents are curious when the long-standing overgrown, empty lot is being cleaned up. Everyone with whom I spoke seemed very pleased and excited. They are looking forward to it. Think about what this will do for the area. This is how urban areas improve. Create jobs, a sense of community, and empowerment. It’s something that everyone can get involved in that will have positive effects on the area.
It’s often the smaller things (that sometimes take a lot of time, money, and effort) that ripple into bigger things. One man saw a need, has a passion, and decided to do something about it. I am so impressed with the fact that Markus has incredible ideas, and he is actually doing something to make it happen. There are plenty of great ideas out there, but not everyone is willing to do what it takes to make it happen. Yes, veterans will benefit from this, but so will the entire community. This is only the beginning.
What I took away from today is worth far more than I was able to offer in my time and effort. I plan to go back and next time bring my Small Group with me.