August 19, 2014
Vu Nguyen is an alumnus of The Mission Continues Fellowship Program and was selected to lead the first ever Washington, D.C. Service Platoon. After one year as a Platoon Leader, Vu reflects on how it all started.
As one of the first veterans chosen to lead a Mission Continues’ Service Platoon, I was tasked with identifying a pressing social issue affecting Washington, D.C. and to develop a plan for the Service Platoon to combat that issue. I struggled with this. There are countless challenges facing Washington, D.C. that could use some well-deserved attention from a team of dedicated veterans. I went back and fourth for weeks… “Should we combat homelessness, empower local youth, or fight poverty?”
One night, I met up with a group of close friends for dinner. We took a quick trip to Trader Joe’s to buy groceries and began cooking dinner as soon as we returned. When the food was finally ready, everyone grabbed a plate. We had our fair share of fresh salad, along with a sausage and brocolli pasta that could last for days. After the last person sat down, we all took our first bite and the conversations started flowing. We hadn’t seen each other in over a month so there was a lot of catching up to do. When it was my turn to talk about what I’ve been up to, I told my friends about the opportunity to start a Mission Continues Service Platoon, and explained the concept of mobilizing a team of veterans to tackle social issues facing our local community. I solicited their help, and they graciously obliged.
Ideas started flowing and the conversation naturally gravitated towards food…maybe it’s because we’re all food fanatics. We talked about processed foods, “natural” flavor as an ingredient, restaurant food waste, and the subsidies farmers receive for not growing food. After hours of conversation we came to the central idea that there is an over abundance of food in America and there is no reason why anyone in this country should go hungry. After a full stomach and great discussions, I was eager to fight hunger in D.C. In the days after that dinner, I began researching the issue.
I stumbled onto Feeding America’s website. I read a report entitled “Map the Meal Gap: Highlights of Findings for Overall and Child Food Insecurity” which was based on data from 2011. The report showed that Washington, D.C. was rated as second worst in the country for child food insecurity, exceeded only by New Mexico At the rate of 30%, more than 31,000 children were living in food insecure households. I was speechless. I had no idea that our nation’s capital was one of the leaders in child food insecurity.
1st Platoon D.C. secured hunger as our mission focus. In the weeks following that decision, we partnered with a local nonprofit, Bread for the City, which has two food pantries and a 2.75 acre orchard that grows fresh produce for the low-income communities they serve. All the food harvested from the orchard is transported to their food pantries and distributed to those in Washington, D.C. who need it the most.
Within the past year, 1st Platoon D.C. has executed 13 service projects – from harvesting food in the field to distributing meals at local food pantries.
With Bread for the City, our Service Platoon has harvested more than 1,127 pounds of fresh produce, removed more than 200 pounds of weeds and invasive species, mulched 12 rows of apple trees and built a farm table.
During Thanksgiving last year, we served alongside the First Family, preparing more than 200 meals for local residents who couldn’t afford Thanksgiving dinner.
We have left our mark on this city, and have answered the call to serve again. From laying 143,000 wreaths on the fallen soldiers tombstones at Arlington National Cemetery, to refurbishing local schools in low-income neighborhoods, to preparing more than 5,000 meals at D.C. Central Kitchen we’re reporting for duty and building our community.