Weekly luncheon lets veterans laugh and eat as a unit

Published 12:10 am Wednesday, September 6, 2023

SALISBURY — Tom Harrell was both a local radio legend in Rowan County and a World War II veteran who seemed fully committed to serving the community any way he could. Harrell passed away last week, but the seeds he planted to help fellow veterans like himself are still growing and flourishing as his memory looms over it all.

On Tuesday, Sept. 5, Christiana Lutheran Church hosted its weekly “Rowan County Veterans Luncheon” that was formed by Harrell as the Frontier Coffee Shop, a destination for veterans to meet and hang out in a more casual setting. The Frontier Coffee Ship has had multiple locations over the years like Thelma’s Restaurant and K&W Cafeteria before it found its way to the church.

Veterans have been coming to the church once a week for the past three years for a nice meal that doesn’t cost too much and to keep friendships alive. Troy Horton began organizing and hosting the gatherings when Harrell got sick and keeps it going not only for the veterans, but for Harrell as well.

“He was a great man,” Horton said. “He’s been dealing veterans for a long time.” Horton says that since their first meeting, more people have joined to where they now average 125-130 people per week. The luncheons also provides information to veterans about events taking place and resources that are available for anyone who needs them. The luncheons act as an umbrella for all veterans in Rowan County to bump shoulders and catch up with one another. Most of the veterans are members of other organizations, but they may not come in contact with each other too often. The luncheon permits veterans from across the county, regardless of branch, to connect based on their military service.

Dale Roth was a chaplain in the Air Force for four years and now performs those same duties at the luncheon every Tuesday. He believes what they do goes beyond just talking and eating lunch, it allows veterans an environment to feel comfortable and to have moments to express how they are feeling mentally and physically.

“The idea is that we come together to tell the story of our service and to help people through PTSD and negatives and positives,” Roth said. “The joy of being with these men, they have served their country and in a time when there’s really negativity in our country and division, there’s unity here.”

It takes plenty of food to satisfy over 100 people. Jason Smith, owner of the Hot Dog Shack, has been responsible for making and supplying the food for the luncheons. It costs $7 at the door, but that is only to cover the cost of the food, nothing is done for profit. Smith welcomes the feedback from veterans on what should be on the menu and how they’re grateful for his selflessness. However, for him, doing his part for veterans makes all the work that he does worth it at the end of the day.

“The reality is that even something as simple as owning a hot dog shack is not available in some countries and so I take that very seriously as far as the veterans go. I appreciate their sacrifice. It’s really a lifetime sacrifice these guys make…It’s not something I see as a burden, I really look forward to it every Tuesday,” Smith said. “It’s an honor for me to do it.”

These luncheons can be as powerful as any kind of medicine or therapy. Mike Catus has been attending these weekly meetings for years and is thankful for all that it has done for him. The closeness at these gatherings can lead to incredible personal breakthroughs for veterans like Catus.

“It saved my life when it first started. I had real bad PTSD, I was having problems, they overwhelmed me, and I had to stay at the hospital. Then I got introduced to this group and it kind of saved my life, Catus said. “The camaraderie and everything else, I go around to each table every week, talk to people. You never know what’s going on until you ask people.”

For any information, go to https://www.facebook.com/frontiercoffeeshop