Campus News

Bethel’s Jim Metherd pays it forward with local combat veterans

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This year, in mid-December, when almost all Bethel students will have scurried home for the holidays and the campus is cold, silent and snow-covered, something will be happening that may just add a little warmth to the blanketed Bethel College. During the past five Christmas breaks, Bethel has hosted a Christmas dinner for homeless veterans. The dinner, held in cooperation with the local chapter of the Combat Veterans’ Motorcycle Association, the Robert L. Miller Sr. Veteran's Center and Blue Star Moms, invite local veterans to come together and celebrate Christmas together. “We just break bread together,” said Jim Metherd, general manager of the Sodexo dining team at Bethel and the man behind the dinner. Years ago, Bethel hosted yearly dinners for the homeless in South Bend, which typically brought in 150 to 175 people. Current men’s basketball assistant coach Ryne Lightfoot, who was then a Bethel student, and a group of basketball players got together to shuttle attendees back and forth to the events. Metherd got involved with the idea through his position as commander of a local chapter of the Combat Veterans’ Motorcycle Association. ”One of our beliefs also is community service and vets helping vets,” said Metherd. “So it just happened. I came up with an idea, [and] I was like, 'how neat would it be to host an annual holiday meal for the less fortunate so to speak, that could use a little bit of assistance,' and it began.” The event grew from there. Metherd’s group from the motorcycle association does the serving each year, but Metherd also extends an invitation to his Sodexo staff to volunteer as well. Metherd also teams up each year with the Robert L. Miller, Sr. Veteran's Center to bring in vets, and new to the group this year is an organization known as Blue Star Moms. “Blue Star Moms provides for family members of active duty members that are deployed,” explained Metherd. “So I thought, how neat would it be…that even though your loved one is deployed in Afghanistan or Iraq, you still get to enjoy [a] Christmas meal with other fellow soldiers and stuff?” Also new this year is the speaker, Rep. Jackie Walorski, who will deliver an address during a social time before the meal. This isn’t Metherd’s first foray into veteran charity. He had previously worked with Sodexo’s employee resource network honor group, which shows appreciation for veterans and active service members, to run a winter gear collection campaign. “So years ago, what was neat was we used to do coat drives,” said Metherd. “So I would actually solicit area Sodexo accounts and I would ask to put donation boxes out for cold weather gear. So it was marvelous, truly marvelous.” However, the end result of the drive didn’t go exactly as planned. When Metherd delivered his stock of cold weather gear to the homeless shelter, he was instructed to put them in the basement, where he discovered piles and piles of clothing sitting there. Metherd decided to try a different approach for the following year, this time focusing on the veterans who were living on the streets of South Bend. The campaign the following year was for sleeping bags as well as cold weather gear. And this year involved something a little unorthodox. The veterans’ administrative assistant, who operates out of the homeless shelter, and a medical personnel individual, went to where they knew homeless veterans were living. “They knew where the people were living on the streets, and they would go and provide healthcare or medical attention as needed,” said Metherd. “And then they'd deliver the sleeping bags and cold weather gear that we gave them.” So why isn’t Metherd doing the same this year? A simple reason: there are no longer any veterans living on the South Bend streets. So, in lieu of a cold weather gear campaign, Metherd is planning on giving out gift baskets with an assortment of items to the veterans who come to the dinner. ”I have Christmas cards that my staff and Bethel students will sign,” said Metherd. “I'll get those week.  Plus I've got some Christmas cards from local elementary schools that have made them out thanking vets for their service and active duty soldiers, so this year I'll probably make a candy basket and gift card and just little tokens that they can take with them.” Metherd said he plans to continue hosting this dinner for as long as he stays on staff at Bethel.  If he ever relocates, he plans to do something similar there. He also expressed hope that his staff will continue this practice after him. “I think that if I were ever to leave, I would recommend [Sherri Hess] to fill my spot," said Metherd. "I think she would continue it. Because we'll always have some sort of combat veteran motorcycle association in this area. I think [it's] something that they and myself pride ourselves on, to continue that reputation.” I also asked Metherd about the process of getting Bethel on board with the idea, and he said it wasn’t much of a stretch to present it to the Bethel administration. “We are a very service-oriented campus,” he said. “…I mean look at it, we have Labor 4 Your Neighbor, we have Service Day, we have all these different initiatives that we are a true…giving community here.  So I figured, my goodness, it was hand in hand, no brainer. And I presented it to Dr. Engbrecht, when he was the senior vice president, and he loved the idea, and we just...continued on with it.” I asked Metherd what he’s learned from hosting this dinner for so long. “Personally, it's sometimes easy to lose grasp of what other people go through,” he said. “And sometimes...the smallest thing we can do is just life changing for some people.” Metherd said he tries to hire veterans when he can, and there’s one hire in particular that he’s asked to speak at the dinner this year. After seeing his work ethic, Metherd promoted him and gave him a raise. With that pay increase, this veteran was able to secure his own housing and move out of the veterans’ center. “So...that's what you learn,” said Metherd, “those are the things you see that, you know, the smallest token of anything can make just a life changing difference for some people.” The dinner will be held on Dec. 17, and Metherd expressed a hope that it would reflect back on Bethel. “It speaks highly upon the institution we're at,” he said. “We’ve had television coverage before, not only for this dinner, but also, for the homeless dinners we used to do. And it's a no-brainer, it's a win-win for everyone.”
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