SIOUX CITY | Veterans came in with thinning gray hair, bushy eyebrows. They sat down in rolling office chairs and two hairstylists tamed their tousled locks – at no charge.
A handful of others waited and watched Becky Leigh give a trim during an event dubbed Operation Date Night, where veterans and military family members could get free groceries, gift cards to Texas Roadhouse, a car wash coupon and a haircut before Valentine’s Day.
Every other month, Support Siouxland Soldiers hosts a Food for Veterans event at the American Red Cross. The nonprofit organization served over 700 families and 2,100 singles last year. Ninety-four percent of recipients are living in poverty, said Sam Hacker, community outreach coordinator.
A line began to form well before the doors officially opened at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. Goods and services are distributed on a first come, first served basis. Eighty boxes of food were gone within 30 minutes.
Support Siouxland Soldiers started in 2007, primarily sending care packages to troops overseas. Most recently the group mailed Valentine’s Day cards created by students. The food program was added about three years ago.
Leigh started volunteering in June. At one event, she did 19 haircuts in four hours. She found out about the need for a hairstylist through a friend.
“They didn’t have anybody so I just started doing it,” she said.
On Tuesday, she had a coworker come with her to keep the line moving.
They set up a makeshift salon in one of the rooms, laying down thin white Red Cross blankets to catch the clippings. Without a shampoo bowl, Rebecca Lozano spritzed heads of hair with a spray bottle.
“Whatever works, you know,” she said.
Lozano graduated from beauty school a month ago and started working at the same salon as Leigh. She put in a full day of work at Rumor Haz It before making the three-minute drive over to the Red Cross building to give back to the service men and women in the community. Her daughter did a tour in Iraq and her father served in Vietnam.
Over the buzz of an electric clipper, Lozano and Leigh made small talk with the men.
“I bet that feels better already,” Leigh said to the veteran in the chair.
“It does. It does,” he said.
In addition to the hairdressers donating their services, Claudia Hessa, the owner of Sugar Shack Bakery provided a delectable array of cupcakes, cookies, bars and cheesecake bites. The connection comes through her husband John Hessa, who serves as the veteran representative of IowaWorks Greater Siouxland. He regularly attends the events to connect with veterans who need help.
Usually, a massage therapist comes too.
“We just want to help any way we can,” Hacker said.