As a Talk Therapy session took place Tuesday morning among members of the South Texas Afghanistan Iraq Veterans Association, the organization also held a successful food drive to restock its shelves at 519 E. Madison St.

“Today we asked members of our organization and the community to help with donations for our in-house food drive and the result was outstanding,” STAIVA public relations director Laura Serna Marquez said. “Our community has responded in a very positive way.”

STAIVA had asked for donations of everything from canned goods and other non-perishable food items to pet food and diapers to bolster its supply of needed on-the-shelf items.

The result was an enthusiastic turnout of people bringing donations, as well as a chance for STAIVA to tell the community about what it offers to veterans as they make the transition from military to civilian life.

Jaime Villarreal, a U.S. Army veteran from 1977-79, said he was looking for a place to donate to hurricane relief efforts in Louisiana when he discovered the STAIVA veterans center and food drive.

“We’d love for veterans in the community to be aware of what’s available here,” said Miguel Altamirano, a Brownsville native and U.S. Marine Corps veteran who regularly takes advantage of the camaraderie the center offers among its “community of veterans.”

He said STAIVA is the only local veterans organization to be given permission by County Judge Eddie Trevino to continue operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He characterized STAIVA as a networking opportunity for veterans from every era.

“It’s important to know that at least this one place is still up and running,” Altamirano said. “For us, it’s like a second family, a second home.”

Among the services offered at STAIVA:

>> Assistance with Veterans Administration benefits, particularly to increase the percentage of benefits,

>> Counseling, in person, over the phone or via Zoom meeting,

>> Assistance with electric bills and rent,

>> Assistance “any which way,” including transportation, and

>> Peer to peer support groups on Tuesdays called Talk Therapy sessions.

Marquez, also a USMC veteran, said grants and donations fund the center’s activities.

“This is where we call home, where we come to recharge our batteries,” Altamirano said in explaining how the “community of veterans” looks out for each other.

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