On Veterans Day, former United States Army soldier Ernest Walker had the unfortunate experience of being denied a discount because the manager of a Dallas-area eatery didn’t believe he was a real vet.
A whole heap of press and attention (rightfully) ensued.** The restaurant chain, Chili’s, eventually publicly apologized and made it up to Walker, and a bunch of concerned citizens setup a GoFundMe account to buy dinner for the vet and his family.
“It turned out to be a blessing in disguise. We decided to use those funds to give back to others in need,” said Walker, to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
He took the money deposited into the online account and turned it into a seed for a whole new, selfless venture: a campaign called “Feed a Million Veterans.”
And, it’s already in action. Just this past Saturday, the charity fed about 80 veterans hailing from in and around north Texas.
It’s gotten some high-profile contributions, too, from Dallas Mavericks’ owner and billionaire Mark Cuban, the Salvation Army, and other outreach programs and local businesses.
More from the Star-Telegram:
Cuban has been particularly helpful, providing a gift bag for veterans participating in Saturday’s dinner that included a T-shirt and a blanket, Walker said.
“We’ve sent more than 300 kids and vets to Mavs games,” Walker said. “We’re not talking about nosebleed seats either. We’re talking $200 tickets.”
Walker’s attorney, Lee Merritt, said his meeting Walker has been an amazing roller-coaster ride of an experience. Merritt said Walker has always pushed to make something good come out of the Chili’s incident.
Walker and Merritt said they hope to hold a similar event early next year for Fort Worth veterans.
“It’s been a very rough season for them,” Merritt said of homeless veterans. “They’ve talked about trying to stay warm, trying to find jobs. We’re using some of our funds to try to expand some of the already existing programs, like the ones that supply veterans with interview attire. The truth is this experience has caused me to look at veterans in a whole different light.”
Want to contribute to Feed a Million Veterans?
** – Not all of it positive, unfortunately. There are reports that Walker and his family have put their house up for sale after receiving ugly threats in the wake of the incident.