SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4)- Employees from the Ken Garff Automotive Imports handed out 500 meals to veterans at the George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center on 500 South and Foothill Drive, across the road from the University of Utah. The drive to hand out meals to veterans and their families took place Thursday on Veterans Day and on Friday.
Mike Terry is the general manager of Ken Garff Hyundai Southtowne. He tells ABC4 how handing out meals to veterans stems from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We started right as [COVID-19] hit,” Terry said. Initially, it was intended to be a one-time event to help veterans out during the pandemic. However, the impact of handing out meals on both veterans and Ken Garff employees went much deeper.
“Once the dust settled in late March, we realized there were going to be a lot of people in our community that needed to be served.” he said. As employees served the veterans, they found that they enjoyed it and wanted to keep doing it.
“We kind of had a revolt from our employees because they were like, ‘This is so great, we get to serve our community.’” Terry said. All four of the import dealers, Hyundai Downtown, Hyundai Southtowne, Garff Nissan, and Garff Honda, got together to serve veterans.
“It was absolutely one of the greatest things we’ve ever done.” Terry said. Helping veterans allowed employees to step out of themselves and out of their jobs to help what Terry called an “underserved community.”
“It’s amazing that somebody could do so much for our country and be underserved and underappreciated,” Terry said, whose father served in the Army and father-in-law served in the Navy, both of them during the Vietnam War.
Vets drove up and received a Thanksgiving ham along with stuffing, cranberry sauce, vegetables, cornbread, potatoes, gravy, jello, pudding, and a pumpkin pie. The reason they received ham instead of turkey was due to a nationwide turkey shortage caused by the pandemic.
Employees volunteered their time to serve vets while they wore red “We Are Hear For You” shirts. They smiled as they handed out the Thanksgiving meals. Some of them went the extra mile for them.
“We have an employee, Luis, who walked four and a half blocks with a veteran who was in her early nineties,” Terry said. The meal was too heavy for her so the employee carried the meal through four parking lots to her car. The vet he was helping also worked at the VA hospital.
Someone asked Terry who was paying for all of what was being served. His answer was straightforward, if not heartfelt.
“This isn’t about any amount of money. This is about [all] employees [serving] without any type of apprehension or worry about what it’s costing,” he said. “And those veterans paid with their service.”
Terry also highlighted the ultimate price paid by those vets who didn’t make it home. For the ones who did make it home, he said they need to be better taken care of. The act of serving a meal may seem like a small gesture, but Terry said it is one that can go a long way for some people.
“They’re overwhelmed,” he said, tearing up as he talked about vets and what it meant for them to be served. “It’s a great response from the veterans but it’s also heartbreaking.” But it is that kind of service that Terry said has been incorporated into what he and the company set out to do with these service projects.
“It’s part of our culture,” Terry said. “And quite frankly, that’s who the Garff family is. They’ve been serving Utah for 85 years.”
And it is that dedication to helping others that makes Ken Garff employees look forward to the next time they’re able to bring a light of hope to those who need it.