For weeks now, my husband has been urging me to watch a certain reality show on TV called “Naked and Afraid.”
This hourlong program takes two willing strangers (one male, one female), whisks them to an exotic yet extremely challenging location (think Bolivian jungle or African Sahara), has them remove all their clothing and embark on a 21-day survival test in which they must forage for all their food and water, make their own shelter, and on and on.
I scoffed initially, perhaps because the “naked” part seemed so gratuitous. But after giving it a chance, I found myself unable to stop watching.
What struck me the most was how ordinary viewers like me at home (along with my two equally riveted boys), can’t possibly understand the kind of hunger the two contestants must be feeling by day seven, or even day two.
My 8-year-old was confused at first, wondering why they didn’t just get something to eat already. I patiently explained that there are no grocery stores or fast-food restaurants in these wilderness areas and that the man and the woman had to hunt for their food and then, hopefully, make a fire to cook it.
As the show progresses, the two people inevitably end up in the fetal position, crying from hunger pains. It hit me how many people in the Killeen area — some of them children my own kids’ ages — likely go to bed with this sort of belly-grinding hunger many of us have never experienced.
And then Operation Phantom Support came to mind. The nonprofit in downtown Killeen is doing amazing things to assist people who need help feeding their families.
Operation Phantom Support is a family affair. The CEO is John Valentine III, a former Army noncommissioned officer. His mother and father are deeply involved in the day-to-day operation of the charity as is his aunt, who oversees the thrift store.
The many volunteers I saw one day impressed me with their dedication and positive energy. As I told my husband, you could feel the good vibes the minute you stepped into this place.
When I visited Operation Phantom Support, it was a Saturday morning — perhaps the busiest day of the week. There was a long line of folks waiting for the doors to open so they could fill their bags with a variety of nutritious and often fresh food.
Meanwhile, a bevy of volunteers of all ages worked tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure the pantry was fully stocked and ready for the customers.
It’s a good deal no matter how you slice it. Soldiers and honorable veterans can use the food pantry free of charge every third Thursday of the month. Those who donate a minimum of $10 a month are welcome to come up to eight times a month (Thursday and Saturday mornings). It is estimated that this can save a family up to $400 in grocery fees a month.
One of the employees there — Andrea Fleming — told me how she and her husband moved to Killeen from Germany (after he got out of the Army) based on a dream she had that urged them to come. She said she felt like she’d “come home” as soon as she walked through the doors of Operation Phantom Support and has put her heart and soul into the place ever since.
Watching her check in customers with hugs and smiles, it was clear that this was a labor of love for her.
Valentine said he wants to eventually become a “one stop shop” for active-duty military, retirees, veterans and their families. It seems he is well on his way to achieving this goal.
Besides the food pantry, there is a thrift shop with clean, virtually new-looking items for babies, children and adults. Operation Phantom Support offers free cakes for children’s birthdays, military events and most recently, weddings.
There is also “Operation Monkey Wrench,” which assists soldiers and honorable veterans with their automotive repairs, an outdoor program that takes soldiers and veterans on hunting and fishing excursions, and “Operation Resupply,” which is their back-to-school program, providing brand-new backpacks filled with pencils, crayons and the like.
Single soldiers are encouraged to use Operation Phantom Support as well, and anyone can choose to sponsor a family or soldier for a nominal fee.
They even have a financial assistance program, run on a case by case basis, and another known as “Operation Welcome Home” that ensures single soldiers don’t come back to empty barracks rooms.
It’s hard not to be impressed with this organization and the people who run it. For more information, go to www.operationphantomsupport.com.