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Austin Restaurants Launch Operation Serving Up Support

By Tam Cummings
Special to American Forces Press Service

AUSTIN, Texas, Dec. 10, 2004 – Watching a segment of CBS' "60 Minutes" the week before Thanksgiving, Ronald Cheng realized he had to do something to support America's troops.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Beth Chiarelli, spouse of Maj. Gen. Pete Chiarelli, 1st Cavalry Division commander, responds to Ronald Cheng's announcement that his Chinatown restaurant raised more than $16,000 for Operation Serving Up Support. Cheng organized restaurants in the Austin, Texas, area to donate a portion of their proceeds for the evening to the Deployed Soldiers and Families Fund at Fort Hood, Texas. By the end of the evening, the effort had raised more than $30,000 for the troops. Photo by Sgt. Brandon Krahmer, USA

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The show featured a story about a wounded soldier and his financially strapped family, and Cheng said it was then he realized he had to do something to help soldiers at nearby Fort Hood.

"I'm a first generation immigrant. I came here from Taiwan when I was 12," Cheng, the owner of the restaurant Chinatown, explained.

"I've got three nephews in the service: one in the Army, one in the Reserve Marines and one in the Air Force. The Marine, Lance Cpl. Anthony Cheng, is deployed around Fallujah right now. This country has been great to me and my family and I wanted to do something to give back."

Cheng said as he watched the show, he realized he could use his restaurant and his contacts in the Austin area to raise funds to help wounded soldiers returning to Fort Hood from Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"Initially, I thought I could do this by myself," Cheng said. "I could generate $10,000 by myself, but I didn't know what I would do with the money."

Cheng told friends Todd and Laura Templeton he wanted to raise money to help wounded soldiers and their families, but he didn't know how to get the funds to the soldiers.

"I've got a project I want you to help me with," he said he told the Templetons. "I'm passionate about this. They were extremely positive, but time was so short."

Laura told her friend Tracy Wehmeyer, who called her sister Britt Kelley at Fort Hood. Britt is the spouse of Maj. James Kelley, a division deputy surgeon.

Kelley contacted the Fisher House at Fort Hood and the Fort Hood Station of the American Red Cross and then called Cheng. Figuring they needed to act quickly if they wanted to assist families before and during the holidays, the two hooked up with Cheng's friend, Austin advertiser and marketer Jeff Hassman.

The plan grew. Cheng called other area restaurants, a tailor, attorney buddies, a liquor store owner and a limo company. A communications business challenged its competitors to meet their $2,000 contribution. The law firm challenged other firms to meet their $1,000. And Cheng persuaded 31 restaurants to donate a portion of their proceeds on Dec. 7 to his idea, now formalized as Operation Serving Up Support.

"I think the spirit behind this is incredible," said Beth Chiarelli, spouse of Maj. Gen. Pete Chiarelli, 1st Cavalry Division commander. "You've got an Army wife and her associates and a businessman and his associates. Once they put out the idea, their friends really came through. It speaks well of them and their friends."

"This is a great effort," said John Michael Guerrero, a former sailor and manager of restaurant Shoreline Grill. "Anybody who believes in freedom knows this is a great country. Our military deserves the support of every American. We've got to get the elections going in Iraq and stabilize that country, and we have to support our troops.

"We've got to get all our soldiers home; we've just got to get them all back," Guerrero continued. "If every citizen would pitch in, it would help. These guys (military) have done a great job, a difficult job, and we've got to show our support." Guerrero estimated his restaurant raised more than $2,000.

Cheng requested the money raised stay at Fort Hood. Half of the funds will go to support the Fisher Houses at Fort Hood and Fort Sam Houston, the latter selected because it serves the families of wounded soldiers being treated at San Antonio's Brook Army Medical Center. The other half will go to $100 gift certificates disbursed through the Fort Hood Red Cross.

"I think when we have soldiers come back wounded and they get handed something like this (gift certificates) and they realize some restaurants in Austin made it happen, then they realize how many people appreciate the sacrifices our soldiers make," Chiarelli said.

"You know thousands of soldiers at Fort Hood have ties to the Austin area," she said. "And you know it has to make the soldiers proud to know their hometown is supporting them."

While the final tally for the night is not completed, Cheng and his friend estimate they raised more than $30,000. Patrons donated checks and cash above what the restaurant gave during the evening and it was the same at the other businesses as well.

"This is the first time we've had a business provide us with a donation of this magnitude," Laura D. Read, station manager for the Fort Hood Red Cross said. "This will allow us to give $100 gift cards for anything the soldiers need."

Cheng said he was excited with his efforts, but his objective for the next fundraiser is to go to restaurants statewide.

"Even after Iraq is safe, our soldiers will still need support. Next year we are shooting for $300,000," he said.

(Tam Cummings is Fort Hood (Texas) Sentinel news editor.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageAustin, Texas, resident Allen Ray donates $100 to the Deployed Soldiers and Families Fund during Operation Serving Up Support on Dec. 7. Ray was dining at Z Tejas when he became aware the restaurant was donating a portion of its proceeds to support America's soldiers. Photo by Sgt. Brandon Krahmer, USA  
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