From industrial freezers down to the teaspoon, FRS equips restaurateurs and home chefs with a multitude of culinary gadgets. The food service supply company is fulfilling quite a different need this December, though, with its first Hero Tree. Each ornament hanging from the in-store display represents a specific local veteran with a stated holiday wish.
Local veterans care units, general manager Sheila Bevis says, house “a tremendous amount of folks that have no family locally or have no family and friends that visit. Some of the folks in the hospice care unit find themselves here while family [members] are out of town. … We saw a niche and we just wanted to fill it.”
FRS assistant manager Laura Oliver came up with the tree concept after her mother’s knitting group donated handmade goods to the Department of Veterans Affairs in Oteen. It was through that partnership that the knitters found out about a little-known nursing home and hospice care unit at the VA.
An employee at the VA nursing home then provided names of those without visitors or local family — individuals who “could just use some cheer,” Bevins says. The employee interviewed each person to find out what items or gestures would provide the greatest boost in morale.
“Most of their wants are very minimal, and some of them are pretty heart-wrenching,” Bevins says. One person asked to have an errand runner select a gift for his mother, who is still living. Another sought a watch with large-font numbers, since his eyesight has deteriorated. A hospice patient with months to live requested a carton of cigarettes. “I can’t stand cigarette smoke,” Bevins says, “but I’d buy the man a case.”
“And then there’s silly stuff,” Bevins adds, listing items like a football sweatshirt and a zip-up hoodie (needed due to arm ailments).
The front of each ornament is emblazoned with a logo of the military branch in which the veteran served. The back contains gift ideas, sizing and other information.
FRS is encouraging restaurateurs and other community members to visit the store, select a new friend from the Hero Tree and return the desired, wrapped gift by Wednesday, Dec. 23.
“Then on Dec. 24, we’re going to take them out to the VA,” Bevins explains, adding that she’s attempting to persuade Oliver to wear an elf costume for the big day.
Gift-giving participants are welcome to join the FRS crew that morning. “A lot of times that visitation is worth more than whatever simple thing they’ve asked for,” Bevins says.