Frantz Fortune, the Executive Director of VEO, the Veterans Empowerment Organization of Georgia, started the non-profit organization in 2006, when there were more than 300,000 homeless veterans on the streets throughout the USA. “How do we allow those guys who go fight for our country to come back and be homeless?”
Even though there are many organizations that want to help veterans, they often impose strict requirements that limited many ex-military from qualifying.
“Housing and food are the basic needs,” says Fortune, “but since we don’t take government dollars, we were often struggling to provide meals.” Unlike a traditional, government-funded housing program with many rules and regulations, VEO, which attained 501(c)(3) status in 2008, welcomes all veterans as long as they are homeless. Initially, VEO purchased food items, mainly staples and bulk food, by combining the veterans’ food stamps, if available.
“Food is basic. You can give someone a place to stay but if they need to hit the street to beg for food, they don’t have time to face their day and focus on tomorrow. We can send you on a job interview, but if you’re hungry you’re not going to do your best.”
In the Fall of 2017, Second Helpings Atlanta started delivering perishable surplus food to VEO on a weekly basis thanks to its major new Food Donor, Mercedes-Benz Stadium. This has made a big difference in the quality and quantity of meals served in VEO’s communal dining hall.
“We prepare about 30,000 meals per year on a very small budget, and with the food we receive from the Mercedes-Benz Stadium we’ve been able to serve our veterans a wide variety of fresh and healthy prepared foods. You should see the smiles on their faces when they taste the food that was rescued by Second Helpings Atlanta from the luxury suites and catering kitchens at Mercedes-Benz Stadium,” says Fortune.
“At VEO, we can give jobs, we can give housing, we can give a lot of other services – but people need good food, quality food. Because, ‘… if my belly is empty, you can give me anything, but I may not be interested.’ These days, our guys get up in the morning and know that they’re going to have a hot, delicious meal, and that sets them up for success.”
Joe Hennix, the Kitchen Manager at VEO, is thrilled with the kinds of foods that are delivered each week. “Some days, I’m speechless when I open the trays that the volunteers from Second Helpings Atlanta have dropped off. I get such a thrill when we get to serve the grilled shrimp or pulled pork, or the Stadium’s famous mac-and-cheese, and our guys love it! The partnership with Second Helpings Atlanta and the corporate team at Mercedes-Benz Stadium is a blessing. It’s always good to give to an organization that is trying to help somebody else out.”
Since their first food pick-ups in late Summer 2017, Second Helpings Atlanta has rescued nearly 37,000 pounds of food from the Mercedes-Benz Stadium and Philips Arena, the equivalent of over 30,000 nutritious meals.
Since 2008, VEO has provided Housing, Supportive Services, Job Training and Placement to over 4,000 veterans and their families. VEO’s vision is to end veteran homelessness and return the dignity of self-sufficiency to every veteran it serves.
VETERANS EMPOWERMENT ORGANIZATION
373 W Lake Ave NW | Atlanta, Georgia 30318
404-889-8710 | www.veohero.org