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Local church honors veterans with free meals and more

All invited to May 6 brunch, May 19 dinner

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published April 27, 2018

 During a free dinner for military veterans April 21 at Madison Heights United Methodist Church, veterans Walter Johnson, Morris Jewell, Paul Lynn and Ernest Kulp enjoy each other’s company. Free brunches and dinners are held periodically at the church to honor those who served.

During a free dinner for military veterans April 21 at Madison Heights United Methodist Church, veterans Walter Johnson, Morris Jewell, Paul Lynn and Ernest Kulp enjoy each other’s company. Free brunches and dinners are held periodically at the church to honor those who served.

Photo by Donna Dalziel

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MADISON HEIGHTS — Ken Thweatt served with the U.S. Air Force in Vietnam, flying a chopper on search and rescue missions and attaining the rank of captain. He served his country for six years and then returned home — only to find himself vilified by fellow Americans.  

“We got spit on and everything else when we got back from the war,” Thweatt said.

Times have changed since then, and people are now more appreciative of those who served, he said. But many soldiers still fight their own personal battles.

“I got post-traumatic stress disorder,” Thweatt said. “When you’re killing people and then you come back home, it’s hard to adjust. Those stresses bring on depression and anxiety. I didn’t get it when I first came home, but then as I got older, I started getting nightmares. It’s not always related to the war, either. Last night, I dreamt I was lost someplace.”

Many veterans experience that feeling of being out of place after serving, he noted — and that is why things like the veterans ministry at Madison Heights United Methodist Church are so helpful.

The church, located at 246 E. 11 Mile Road, holds brunches and dinners throughout the year where veterans eat for free, and these events provide a sense of belonging. Veterans connect with each other over their shared experience, and the church members are warm and welcoming, Thweatt said.

“There’s no pressure to join the church, and it’s free,” Thweatt said. “It really means a lot to me. The food is always good, but you can get food at a restaurant. It’s the friendship and social aspect with the members that is most fantastic. Every member greets you and says hi. … It can’t heal (PTSD and other struggles), but it helps.”

The next meal is a brunch from 11 a.m. to noon on Sunday, May 6, at the church. The theme is “Best of Brunch,” featuring a variety of popular dishes the church has served over the years, including homemade crepes, breakfast casserole, pierogis and kielbasa.

And on Saturday, May 19, from 5 to 6:30 p.m., there will be a dinner featuring mostaccioli, meatballs, salad, rolls and beverages. The dessert that night is an ice cream sundae bar.

Both events are free for veterans and children ages 3 and younger. Adults pay $8, and kids pay $5.

The dinner proceeds support church activities, while proceeds from the brunch support the veterans directly, helping the church purchase gift cards for food, clothing and household items that are then distributed to veterans in need. In addition, every veteran receives gift cards from the church around the holidays. The church is planning a community barbecue honoring veterans this summer — at a date yet to be decided — and holds a Christmas party for veterans each year with a catered dinner and drawings for prizes, as well as stockings stuffed with treats for each veteran.

Pastor Rhonda Osterman said the idea for a veterans ministry, started in 2015, was inspired by the presence of several veterans in her congregation.

“I chalk it up to the Holy Spirit putting a thought in my mind to do something to help these vets and let them know this congregation cares about them,” Osterman said.

She said there’s a core group of veterans who regularly attend all of the events. One man is a veteran of World War II, and when he doesn’t feel well enough to attend, the church sends home food with his wife.

Many of the veterans who show up are there simply for the sense of community.

“It really is filling a void, making them feel loved and respected and giving them someone to talk to, including other vets who have been in similar circumstances to them,” Osterman said. “But it’s never been our mission to convert them. It’s our mission to love them and care for them as best as we can.”

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