Sailors join forces with Ohef Sholom Temple Soup Kitchen to feed less fortunate
(Photo: U.S. Navy, Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Anna Van Nuys/Released)

By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Anna Van Nuys, USS George Washington (CVN 73) Public Affairs

It was a bright, sunny day as Sailors huddled in the parking lot opposite the towering pillars of Norfolk’s Ohef Sholom Temple, the oldest reform congregation in Hampton Roads.

As more volunteers parked, leaving their cars to find each other and begin the day, Sailors from local commands packed together and made their way to the entrance to find themselves ushered in by the event’s director, Dorianne Villani.

Villani had no time to waste. She quickly welcomed everyone to the kitchen and immediately put the Sailors to work. They were there on a different kind of mission than one typically demanded of them in the Navy. They were there to feed and give basic necessities to the area’s homeless community.

Sailors from aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73), amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1), and Assault Craft Unit (ACU) 2 from Naval Beach Group (NBG) 2 came together and joined the members of the temple in a truly all-hands effort to provide a welcoming meal for those in need.

“I really am thankful for everyone that comes to these soup kitchens,” said Villani. “We all could be doing 50 other things today, myself included. We all chose not to do whatever else it was that we could have been doing today.”

The soup kitchen began its story, December 2010, and regularly opens their doors for the last Monday of every month. The soup kitchen not only provides a home-cooked, five-course meal, but distributes numerous types of donated items such as toiletries, blankets, shoes, clothes, undergarments, and backpacks.

“We give out about a thousand items each soup kitchen [we have],” said Villani. “Today alone, we had at least 75 people come in. We offer them bags filled with each of our 12 or so toiletries, so when you do the math and add that with all the other basic necessities, it really does add up.”

Once the volunteers had everything prepared, Villani opened the front doors and welcomed the patrons patiently waiting outside.

“I really loved being able to see people come in here and smile because they’re able to get some of the things they really need,” said Machinist’s Mate Fireman Toddriquez Jones. “I came here just wanting to give back to the community. I feel like it’s something that I signed up for when I enlisted in the Navy, so I decided I would keep my word and come volunteer.”

One of the patrons in particular left an impact on one George Washington Sailor.

“I met a homeless veteran today,” said Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Diosdado Valera. “He told me he served in World War II and retired as a chief [petty officer]. It hurts to see someone who once served now on the outside with nothing and nowhere to live.

“He told me that he truly believes that you never know where life is going to take you, and regardless of where he’s at now, he’s proud that he served in the Navy,” Valera added. “He said he’s really thankful for all that we, as Sailors, do and he hopes to come back here and see us [at the temple] again.”

Villani said although she enjoyed seeing her regular attendants, it was better when they no longer came.

“One gentleman came in and told me that after years on the streets, he’s finally been assigned temporary housing,” said Villani. “It’s a good and bad thing when you see them come back. You want to see them move on.”

The Navy has been with Villani most of the way. The relationship she and the soup kitchen share with the Sailors isn’t something that just happened overnight; it blossomed with time.

“The Wasp was the first Navy command to come here and volunteer,” said Villani. “They’ve stuck with us the last five years. Those [Sailors] from the Wasp are my roots.”

As the patrons left, they walked out the door with their hands filled and stomachs full, headed on to what the rest of the day had in store for them. Volunteers waved to them and wished them well.

“This soup kitchen is bigger than me,” said Villani. “It’s bigger than my volunteers, so when the Sailors come in here, it really makes me feel like this is bigger than all of us. We really are a community.”