FORT BLISS, Texas - Soldiers from the Fort Bliss Noncommissioned Officers Academy collect and donate 9,373 items in support of the El Pasoans Fighting Hunger Food Bank, Nov. 25.

Staff Sgt. Jonathan Gadson, a small group leader with the Fort Bliss NCOA, organized the event to show the Basic Leader Course, Class 02-20 Soldiers the importance of leadership both inside and outside of the organization.

"I wanted to create a purpose for the students to know how to give back to their community," he said. "Supporting a local homeless shelter demonstrates many of our Army Values, and one in particular is selfless service."

The BLC students demonstrated their selfless service by collecting a variety of non-perishable items to include baby food, cereal, water, canned vegetables and fruit.

"Selfless service extends past the formations," Gadson said. Our students and future enlisted leaders need to know they represent the Army and our values even outside of the uniform. Here [the Fort Bliss NCOA] they all learn how to lead by example."

Gadson wanted to find a way to shed a positive light within the local El Paso community and give back, while also giving the BLC Soldiers a touchstone in leadership.

Spc. Alejandro Benavides a BLC student with class 02-20, was glad he was able to make a difference in his latest community.

"I used to volunteer in my community before I went into the Army," he said. "I understand the importance of helping our local communities, and especially now that I am a Soldier I want to give back."

Benavides added, he is a Soldier 24/7 and his Army Values are always a part of him whether he is in or out of uniform.

"Volunteering all goes back to our Army Values, selfless service and that is why I joined," he said. "I volunteered to join the Army to make it my duty to help others."

The BLC also helped Benavides know how to be a leader.

"I know my actions will speak louder than my words," he said. "The Army is not about you, it is about the people and the Soldiers we will lead and help."

Spc. Courtney Clyde another BLC student with class 02-20 also volunteered to help the food drive.
"Doing your part to help others, creates readiness," she said. "As leaders we need to step up and do our part. In our group dynamics course we learned if one person fails, we all fail."

Clyde understands the importance of building relationships not just with her peers and Soldiers but also with local communities.

"This food drive has us working as a whole, and together we achieved a great success for the community," Clyde said.

Gadson added, there was never a lack of support from the BLC students when it came to lending a helping hand during the food drive.

Alex Duran, the director of marketing for the non-profit organization El Pasoans Fighting Hunger Food Bank, works within the local community by communicating to the public about the people in need every year.

"Last year we collected 15.5 million pounds of food, and this year we are on track to collect over 30 million," he said.

Duran further explained the usual donations are a one for one bulk items and this year due to the Fort Bliss NCOA the El Pasoans Fighting Hunger Food Bank received over 10,000 pounds of a variety of food.

"There are over 200,000 residents in El Paso who are currently in need. The donation will help provide, precisely, 1,444 meals to this specific population," he said.

The El Pasoans Fighting Hunger Food Bank has a large demand for emergency food and volunteers.

"Hunger does not discriminate," Duran said. "We serve children, single parent households, veterans, senior citizens and working-class families. For many of those we serve, they are often faced with tough choices to put food on their table. For every dollar donated to the food bank, it provides seven meals to a food needy person. However, to maintain our current level of service and distribution, we need 40 volunteers per shift."

To learn more about the El Pasoans Fighting Hunger Food Bank or to volunteer like the Soldiers at the Fort Bliss NCO Academy visit https://elpasoansfightinghunger.org.