SARASOTA, FL – Goodwill Manasota and Olive Garden recently partnered for the second year to provide a free holiday meal for area veterans and their families. This year, veteran Melissa Bomar, who served in the Army National Guard, was the recipient of the holiday meal. Her guests included her two children, Lorelei and Landon, her father, Greg Wierzbach – who is also a veteran – and mother, Terry, her brother, Chris Wierzbach and his son, Jayden. Bomar was identified through Goodwill’s Veterans Services Program.
Barbara Richards, manager of the Olive Garden in the Sarasota Landings, hosted the family at no cost to them. “We were so excited to provide a meal for this deserving military family. It’s a way for us to say ‘thank you’ for the service they have provided to our country – we appreciate the sacrifices they have made for us and we wanted to give them a holiday meal they wouldn’t forget!” she said. “We are so grateful for the work that Goodwill does to help veterans in our community – we are proud to partner with them for this event.”
Bomar grew up in a military family with a father who served in active duty. Her father was often absent because of his role in the armed forces but joining the military was something she always aimed for. “Once you’re old enough to register what you want to do with your life, you look for something you’re passionate about. Seeing my dad so involved in the military played a huge role in my life, and when I looked at the benefits of joining, I knew it was the path I wanted to take.”
Bomar received high marks on her entrance exam and chose to pursue training and a career in Aviation Communications. Her father worked his way up in the service and is currently working on obtaining a master’s degree – that inspired Bomar to continue her training.
“There are just so many benefits – health care, job stability, traveling and education. It is true that there is a cost to joining, but I enjoyed the structure and discipline and I think everyone benefits from that.”
While deployed, Bomar’s role in the service was an interesting one as she saw the battle from both sides – as a woman and a spouse, and as an active military member. Bomar, who now works as a program assistant for the Child Action Team at Manatee Glens, dealing with family and child trauma, said that her training in the military prepared her for a position like this.
“During my interview, I was asked about a crisis situation. When you’re deployed, you’re on a team and there are times when you don’t always come home with the whole team,” she said. “Being a woman in the military has a different set of struggles: I would walk around the corner, put on my Army face and be strong for my unit, but when I walked back around the corner, I would cry with the wife of the fallen soldier. It’s a hard role in the military – you’re fighting two wars.”
After she and her husband decided to divorce, Bomar moved to Sarasota – to be near her parents – with her five- and one-year-old children.
“I attended a Veterans Jobs Fair hosted by Goodwill at its new corporate campus and met staff from the Veterans Services Program,” she explained. “Goodwill has been amazing – they have offered housing resources, community events and they even helped me provide toys for my children for Christmas through a partnership with the Women’s Resource Center.”
“People may not realize the difficult economic situation many returning heroes face as they try to re-enter civilian life. In any given month, about 900,000 veterans live in households that use food stamps, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits,” said Bob Rosinsky, president and CEO of Goodwill Manasota. “Around the holidays, the challenges can be particularly difficult for veterans and their families. We believe it’s vitally important to remember our war heroes during the holidays – and each and every day – as they return to civilian life.”
“Goodwill took care of us in a way that veterans understand; there is an unspoken bond that only one veteran and service member to another understands. It’s like a handshake – you get it, and they get it. You know that you are going to be taken care of,” she said. “If a veteran isn’t sure of the resources or benefits out there, they need to contact Goodwill. As a veteran, you have the skills, you have the training and it’s all about applying those skills and using them to your benefit. Veterans don’t realize that employers are looking for them – they know we have skills that others don’t have, and Goodwill matches up the veterans and the employers. The jobs are out there and Goodwill helps us find them.”
Olive Garden is proud to “give back” to the community. “This past year, on Veterans Day, Olive Garden offered a free entrée from a special menu to active-duty military and military veterans with proof of military service,” Richards said. “In addition to supporting veterans, every Olive Garden donates its surplus food to local food banks and non-profit organizations. We also partner with various community organizations to give back to the areas we live in and serve.”
About Goodwill Manasota
Goodwill Manasota is an industry-leading, 501(c)(3), not-for-profit organization that changes lives through the power of work. With the sales of donated goods and philanthropic donations, Goodwill is able to assist people with disabilities and other barriers to employment by providing job skills training and employment opportunities. In 2013, we served more than 16,000 people, placed 537 people in jobs and assisted 329 veterans as they reintegrated back into the civilian workforce. Goodwill Manasota’s economic impact back to the community is worth $81.3 million. Goodwill is one of the pioneers of the reduce-reuse-recycle movement and this past year diverted 37 million pounds out of the landfill. For more information, visit www.experiencegoodwill.org.