ODESSA, Texas —
An Odessa veteran is fulfilling his mission. What started out as a plan to feed the homeless for Thanksgiving, has turned into a community feast.
“If I could do it again, I would volunteer, right now, if they were to call me,” said Marine Veteran Jesse Porras.
Porras volunteered as a U.S. Marine in 1974, and served for 6 years. He was sent overseas at the tail-end of the Vietnam war.
"They put us on the helicopter, the 46 or the 53, they dropped us off, and my job as squad leader and ride guide, I would go up there, take guys up there and recon the area,” said Porras “Make sure everything was good.”
The Marine Corps took him to places like Korea, the Philippines and Australia, among other countries. It also taught him many things.
"You get discipline,” said Porras. “You understand that every person, right beside you is your friend, is like a brother. You protect them, they protect you, when you're out there in the jungle.”
From the jungle, to the desert. Fast forward to 2013, a cold, icy November day in Odessa. Porras said he was approached by several people asking for money to buy food. He told them he wouldn't give them money, but he would buy them something to eat.
An idea started to grow in his mind. He wanted to feed the homeless for Thanksgiving. But time was running out, it was a little over a week away.
With the help of a friend, he secured The Market Bar and Grill to put on his feast. He remembers the conversation.
"’Are you really gonna loan me your place?’ She said, ‘yes,’” said Porras. “So, the Market Bar and Grill was the first event I did for these guys. I went around, made my own flyers and passed them out at Jesus House, Salvation Army. I drove around through the alleys. I drove around where I knew I had seen these guys. I drove around and dropped flyers.”
Porras said he fed about 275 people that first year. Since then, he's fed as many as 1,025, but never less than 800.
He cooks about 37 turkeys and 35 hams. Some are donated, some he buys himself. The rest of the feast is provided by donors and sponsors.
The location is different every year. This year, Abuela's Kitchen, on Grandview, has answered the call. Porras has been a regular customer there since they opened last October.
"He asked us, he was hosting this Thanksgiving dinner, and we were more than happy to provide our business, here, to host it,” said Abuela’s Kitchen co-owner Armando Carrasco. "The amount of people he's had at his turnouts, I really do hope we top it out.”
The Marine Corps taught Porras strict discipline and left him with a lifelong mission: no man is left behind.
He said raising six children calmed him down. The loss of his eldest son in 2000 played a big part in that too.
"When I lost him, that's when I started taking things, not so much for granted,” said Porras. “From there on, I said ‘I'm going to give to my family, my friends.’ Because what you do now relates back to how people are going to treat you."
That's why, after 9 years, Porras is still paying it forward. He may not be serving his country, but he is still serving his community.
It's a time to bring family and friends together. Porras says he'll do this until the good lord calls him home.
“A lot of people say I'm crazy because I give my time,” said Porras. “I say, let me be crazy because inside, I'm happy.”