Lunch Served With Love at Virginia Beach USO
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
By Malini Wilkes
What are you having for lunch today?
How would you like a hot meal of home-cooked chicken and rice, corn bread, strawberry pudding and a great big hug?
That’s what you get at the USO center at JEB Little Creek in Virginia Beach, Virginia, thanks to two dedicated volunteers, both in their eighties.
Jackie Warn and Rita Swan serve a hot, homemade lunch to the troops, five days a week, all year long.
You’ll find Jackie, 82, hard at work in the kitchen before 8 o’clock every morning. Despite her slight frame, she’s a bundle of energy – cooking, seasoning, stirring and setting up the serving line for up 70 hungry troops, mostly sailors and Marines stationed at the base.
She started volunteering nearly seven years ago after her the death of her husband, a Navy veteran. Soon the USO became her second home.
“I enjoy it. I love it,” she says.
Jackie’s mission is to make sure everyone leaves with a full stomach and a smile on their face. “Sometimes I can look at them and tell they’re a little down in the dumps,” she says. But as a mom, grandmother and great-grandmother, she knows exactly how to lift their spirits.
“We’ve had some that come in, they wouldn’t smile. And I talk to them, and shortly after that, well they would start smiling.”
While Jackie is cooking and serving, Rita sits by the door checking ID’s and offering a hearty greeting and a warm hug to everyone who walks in.
“Sometime I go overboard, but I can’t help it,” says the outgoing 85-year-old. She admits to being a little nosy, quizzing everyone who comes through the dining room about their personal life.
Like Jackie, Rita was married to a Navy veteran and needed something meaningful to do after her husband passed away five years ago. She’s become another surrogate mom for troops who visits the USO. “I love ‘em,” she says, “There isn’t one I’ve met here that I could say I don’t like.”
The troops feel the same way about Rita and Jackie. “I love how friendly they are,” says Navy Seaman Emily Rose Pomeroy. “I love the hot food. I love that I’m always welcome.”
Hugs are by far the most popular thing on the menu.
“Pretty much every time I come in here I get hugs. Hugs are free here,” says Petty Officer 1st Class Daniel Perez, “They put love into everything they do.”
Petty Officer 1st Class Dorothy Jimenez agrees, “I like the hugs, and I just like to see the smiling faces of the ladies here. They’re very warm.”
Jackie wants everyone to know, they always have room for more at the lunch table. Whenever she sees someone in uniform at a store or restaurant, she introduces herself and tells them, “I’m a volunteer at the USO, and we serve lunch five days a week and we’d be glad for you to come visit us!”
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Photo caption: USO volunteers Jackie Warn, left, and Rita Swan serve a daily hot lunch to troops at JEB Little Creek in Virginia Beach. (Photo Courtesy: Malini Wilkes)
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