By David N. Young
After four decades in the restaurant business, Art Garcia has never forgotten how much America owes to those who have served in the military and he has made it a holiday tradition to give something back.
Garcia owns Maderas Steak and Ribs in Los Alamitos, and he is preparing to feed nearly 200 of veterans who would likely be completely forgotten on Christmas.
His holiday service to veterans’ dates back to Long Beach many years ago when he would serve Christmas meals to homeless veterans. Since he opened Ma1deras in 2007, however, he has searched for more meaningful ways to serve.
Born in Torrance, Art’s family moved Mexico City, only to return when he was 19. He
has lived in America most of his life and for four decades, he’s made an effort to give something back.
In fact, he was ready to serve in the military, registered for the draft during the Vietnam War, but “was never called to serve.”
Garcia obviously has a very soft spot for the veterans who did. Even more, his heart aches for veterans confined to the spinal cord injury ward, along with other, less frequented wards of the Veteran’s Administration hospital in Long Beach.
A restaurateur most of his life, Garcia began serving Christmas steak dinners to veterans in the VA Hospital four years ago. At first, the local businessman was horrified by what he found.
“There was no Christmas music, no tree, no decorations,” he said during his first foray into the spinal cord ward of the Long Beach V.A. hospital.
Garcia said hospital officials told him then that holiday decorations in the VA were not allowed because they were a “fire hazard.” Since then, however, Garcia has managed to get approval to have decorations for the day.
While it is a festive occasion, Garcia urges his “team” to prepare themselves for sights they are perhaps unaccustomed to seeing. To be sure, those who venture into the hospital on this mission will see things that could be disturbing since many of those confined to these wards have sometimes suffered horrific wartime injuries.
In fact, Garcia instructs everyone who chooses to accompany him to “reflect, pray or be inspired” to “get prepared” for spreading holiday cheer. “Sometimes it’s hard not to breakdown,” he said.
His mission, nevertheless, is to bring “joy and laughter” to those veterans in these wards who would otherwise be “sad and lonely at Christmas.” These men and women have served their country, said Garcia, and no one who has served should be forgotten.
But these are exactly the veterans Garcia wants to serve. He is preparing 180 meals, each of which to include a famous Maderas salad, a filet mignon, roasted garlic-mashed potatoes and a vegetable prepared for easy consumption. For dessert, Garcia instructs his chefs to prepare cheesecake in the shape of a heart topped with dark Belgian chocolate.
To accomplish the mission, Garcia fields an army of about 50 chefs, sous-chefs, servers and volunteers to make this happen, and, at press time, he has about 10 positions available for volunteers. Also, he is seeking to have each of the meals sponsored at $25 each to help offset the cost. So far, he has received donations for 44 of the 180 meals and he promises to serve all of them, paying himself for those meals that are not donated.
Four years in, Garcia has enlisted quite a bit of support for these Christmas missions. The Rossmoor Woman’s club now provides decorations and assistance. He now has a corps of Christmas carolers from Bethel Romanian Pentecostal Church. As the meals are being served, they walk the halls to spread the love of Christmas with music to let these shut in veterans knows that America appreciates “what they have done for us.”
“This is a way for me to be of service to America,” he said. “I am so blessed to be able to do this. These veterans should not be sad and lonely on this day,”
Anyone wanting to either donate a meal or volunteer for the mission to bring joy to severely disabled veterans on Christmas are urged to call Maderas (562-598-0401) or signup at the restaurant, located at 3642 Katella Ave, Los Alamitos.