A dream brought Andrea Fleming and her family to Killeen. She and her family had moved back to Germany following her husband’s retirement from the Army when she had an epiphany.
“I’m one of those people who dream their world,” Fleming said. “I woke up one morning and told my husband, ‘We’re going to Killeen.’”
Although her husband had never been stationed at Fort Hood, she had been to Killeen on a short visit once.
“I liked the heat and I liked the idea and ... I liked the prices of the houses,” Fleming said.
The family was not faring well in her home country, she said. Her husband had trouble finding a job and started gambling.
“It was just really, really terrible,” she said. Within six weeks of her dream, the family moved to Killeen and was settling in. Fleming walked into Operation Phantom Support one day “because we needed the help.”
With six children and many costs (including replacing furniture they had left behind in Germany), money was tight.
“I walked in here and it was like I was home,” she said. “It’s really weird.”
Now she works for the nonprofit as executive assistant to the CEO, and also volunteers numerous hours.
Work from the heart
On Saturday morning, the colorfully dressed Fleming greeted people with hugs and warm smiles as they came in to collect their weekly groceries from the nonprofit’s food pantry, which is frequented by about 400 people twice a week. For Fleming, Operation Phantom Support allows her to work from her “heart.”
“You have to love the people who come in,” she said. “This is something you do because you’re passionate about it; this is a family.”
The pantry is open every Thursday and Saturday and features a variety of food, much of it fresh.
“We’re trying to give healthy food out — we’re not trying to just give out canned vegetables,” said John Valentine III, the nonprofit’s founder and CEO. He said they offer carrots, potatoes and meat, including pork and chicken, as well as baked goods.
Valentine, a retired sergeant first class, used to run the Fort Hood chapter of Operation Once in a Lifetime but realized he had a different calling.
“From my point of view, it was more important to help some of these soldiers with their day-to-day struggles, not once-in-a-lifetime type of things.”
Operation Phantom Support runs the food pantry, a thrift store and a variety of programs, including one that provides free birthday cakes to children. Valentine recently added an automotive repair program.
It is a $10 monthly donation for active-duty military, veterans and retirees to use the services, $25 for civilians. “We don’t care what branch (you’re in),” Valentine said. “We only care that you’re serving your country or that you served it honorably.”
He said in April, 2,756 people used Operation Phantom Support, impacting 9,957 family members overall.
The charity has been saving and holding fundraisers in order to purchase a walk-in freezer worth $12,000 for a quarter of that cost, thanks to a sponsor’s generosity. The nonprofit currently relies on a series of small, outdated refrigerators that often break down. Recently, the volunteers had to throw away an entire refrigerator full of fresh chicken.
“That walk-in freezer is going to let us buy more food and save it,” Valentine said.
To thank the local community, the nonprofit is raising funds during its “Summer Break Kick-Off ” from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday.
Featuring games, food vendors, face painting, a bounce castle and lots of prizes, the festival will be in front of the Operation Phantom Support building, at 315 E. Avenue C in downtown Killeen. Tickets are $5 a person.
“This is basically soldiers helping soldiers and veterans helping veterans,” Valentine said, summing up the mission of his charity.
For more information on Operation Phantom Support’s many programs or to donate to the nonprofit, go to www.operationphantomsupport.com.