FORT LEE, Va. -- About 25 Navy and Air Force culinary students, instructors and support staff ventured out into the local community Feb. 8 to do something quite different from their everyday classroom and unit training routines.

The volunteers lent their skills to the lunchtime feeding operation at The Hope Center, a nonprofit facility in Petersburg operated by Downtown Churches United, Inc., with a goal of easing hunger and financial stress for less-fortunate citizens.

Scott Fisher, executive director of the facility, said Fort Lee volunteers have supported the operation in the past, but never in the food preparation category.

“This is the first time since I’ve been down here that we’ve had the military come down in a volunteer capacity to cook,” he said.

The Fort Lee group prepared meals for about 30 people, set up feeding lines and served the food – tasks that are nearly identical to the duties the students in training will perform as trained culinarians.

Deborah Pulliam, who coordinates the feeding operation, said the troops lent a bountiful hand and their actions were meaningful. “It lets (our patrons) know others do care,” she said. “It’s the willingness and enthusiasm of volunteers that makes outreach events like this so special.”

The Hope Center serves meals every weekday, and on two Sundays a month. The operation is year-round and includes ancillary services like faith counseling and financial assistance for emergencies. It is supported by Petersburg’s faith community.

In addition to earning praise from the off-post organization, the volunteer project provided a lesson about compassion, dignity and respect, noted Lauren P. Barboza, the garrison’s sexual assault and response coordinator who orchestrated the event. It “sets the appropriate tone,” she said, for an organization that’s deeply invested in promoting positive values among its military personnel, many of who are students in training.

Future projects are assured, Barboza noted while citing the thought-provoking name of the initiative – Army Community Service’s Teal Team Six. Through community service work, the group leaders are endeavoring to provide troops with unique perspectives that will broaden their understanding of people in need.

“Teal Team Six is a mentoring initiative we developed as a part of our sexual assault prevention strategy,” she said. “One of the elements of the strategy is outreach and community support. Of course our community is the military, but we wanted to broaden and expand that and have the military community support our neighbors in the local area.”

Barboza said TTS intends to pursue community service as a part of its battle rhythm.

“At least once a quarter, we want to do something that is greater than ourselves and do it in a community other than our own,” she said.

The junior troops who volunteered for the Hope Center event also were part of the planning committee and coordinated the logistics for the occasion, said Barboza, noting Navy and Air Force noncommissioned officers served as mentors throughout the process. It is another aspect of the effort that keeps the spotlight on positive action, she added.

“It’s an opportunity for us to continuously develop the mindset and desire so we can focus on taking care of people, treating people with dignity and respect and not focusing on behaviors that are negative or that might lead to misconduct, or worse, sexual violence,” she said.

Teal Team Six was rolled out October 2018, said Barboza. The Hope Center feeding operation was its first event. Barboza is setting her sights on many more.

For more information about TTS, call 804-734-7083.