'Blessing in disguise': Army veteran scorned by Chili's feeds dozens
FORT WORTH, Texas (Tribune News Service) — A veteran who was refused a free meal at the Chili’s Bar and Grill in Cedar Hill during Veterans Day observances has turned the table and is using the experience to help feed hungry and homeless veterans in the north Texas area.
A GoFundMe account that was set up to help buy dinner for the family of Ernest Walker, the 47-year-old Army veteran who had his to-go box taken away by a Chili’s restaurant manager in November, served as the seed for his campaign called Feed a Million Veterans.
On Saturday, a Luby’s manager said Walker fed about 80 veterans. Many of those veterans were bused to Luby’s and are homeless, Walker said. Walker said he was surprised to learn that someone had started a fund in his name.
“It turned out to be a blessing in disguise,” Walker said. “We decided to use those funds to give back to others in need.”
Walker went to the Chili’s Bar and Grill in Cedar Hill on Veterans Day for the chain’s promotion of a free meal for veterans. Later, as he was getting ready to leave with a to-go box to pick up his wife, a manager he identified as Wesley Patrick approached him and said a customer told him that Walker is “not a real soldier because I had my hat on indoors,” and customers nearby could hear him, Walker wrote on Facebook.
The manager refused to acknowledge Walker’s military documents and took away his to-go box. The video of the incident went viral. Walker said his family was forced to move from his residence because of threats he received after the incident and the house has been listed for sale.
Chili’s, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, the Salvation Army, Die Empty Dallas, 411MagMinistries and the Veterans Outreach Program have all pledged their support to the Feed a Million Veterans program, Walker said. 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.”
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