Earlier this year, Freedom Alliance was at the Texas de Brazil steakhouse in Tampa, Florida, with our guests, 75 patients and family from the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital and Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center.
We personally welcomed each hero and his or her loved ones in the lobby, presenting them with a box of Lisa Hoffman scented oils. One spouse wasn’t surprised, saying that “as usual Freedom Alliance spoils us.” She continued, “You always go above and beyond to make sure we feel loved and appreciated.”
Once settled, our families visited the salad bar, which also featured salmon, sushi, and lobster bisque. Servers carved meats at each of our tables and kept the plates supplied, while those who paced themselves ended with bananas foster or key lime pie for dessert.
This constitutes a troop appreciation dinner that we host annually for the VA hospital here in Tampa. It not only shows our gratitude for these great people, but it boosts morale and serves as part of their rehabilitation.
For some, it is an initiation to eating in public with a crowd of people; others, especially those with spinal cord injuries, it is a way of getting exercise outside of the hospital setting.
Some staff attended as well. The Wounded Warrior liaison from Fort Stewart in Georgia thanked us for giving “her soldiers” the opportunity to escape the hospital for a while and be together with their families.
An Army chaplain, who has set up a caregivers support group at the Tampa VA, appreciated that Freedom Alliance honors the family members as well. “Not only was it one of the most flavorful meals I have ever eaten,” he said, “but more importantly, I had the opportunity to get to know some of our soldiers and caregivers better.”
One service member was accompanied by his aunt, 13-year-old niece, and four-year-old daughter. Thanks to family members like this aunt, who take the time to travel to Florida, the veteran can see one of his three children each month, even though they live in Pennsylvania.
Donny and Jessica were able to leave their young daughter with grandparents and come out to dinner with us. Donny will soon be medically retired from the Marine Corps and the family is anxious about the transition.
“Thank you for giving us this night,” Jessica said. “You don’t know how much we needed this.” She insisted that we were “beyond handshakes” and we left the couple with warm embraces and well-wishes.
This was obviously an important gesture and well received by our veterans in recovery. We thank our supporters, who made this event possible, and the service members and hospital staff, who made the night exceptional.