Wave Staff Report
WHITTIER — About 100 Whittier-area families in need received an outpouring of holiday cheer complete with Thanksgiving dinner fixings and a $25 Stater Bros. gift card at a turkey drive held at Pioneer High School Nov. 15.
The event was conceived by Helping Homeless Veterans-LA President and founder Cynthia Perry-Lopez and her husband, John Lopez, who is Pioneer’s campus operations supervisor.
Families began lining up for the turkey drive at 4 a.m. Each car received a grocery bag filled with boxes of stuffing and mashed potatoes, corn, green beans, gravy and the gift card.
“There were so many families lined up we had to start the distribution early,” Perry-Lopez said. “It was a wonderful feeling to be able to help so many people celebrate Thanksgiving. Everyone was so grateful and thanked us.”
The Lopez family has been active in assisting homeless veterans and the local community for more than 10 years, partnering with the Bell Salvation Army Shelter to provide clothing, toiletries and general assistance throughout the year, as well as staging an annual holiday dinner and clothing drive for the shelter. In 2017, Perry-Lopez founded HHV-LA as a nonprofit.
“Due to COVID, we have had to curtail most of our direct activities with the homeless shelters, as well as our charity golf tournament, which is staged by Fernando Villegas,” Perry-Lopez said. “Fernando suggested we do a Thanksgiving donation for local families instead. We set a fundraising goal for $2,500 and were so happy that we reached it.”
John Lopez has been with Whittier Union High School District for 15 years and came to Pioneer High in 2015. He has received strong support from Pioneer Principal Lilia Bozigian and Assistant Principal Craig Fox, as well as his co-workers and staff.
“A couple of years ago we held a barbecue, and my guys came to me and asked if they could volunteer their help,” Lopez said. “We fed over 150 homeless vets that weekend and the goodwill spread throughout the department.
“When there is a need, you’d be surprised how many people want to help out. That’s what makes Cyndie and I so proud, because people are out there who want to give.”
The Lopezes have a long history of military service on both sides of their family, with relatives serving combat duty during World War II, Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan. They have seen firsthand the effects of combat service and how difficult it is for returning veterans to acclimate to society. Though HHV-LA is a small nonprofit, it has been able to assist in ways that bigger donors cannot.
“We’re there for the veterans in the middle of the year, helping to replenish their toiletries and clothing and the things they run out of frequently,” Perry-Lopez said. “Veterans contact us throughout the year when they need a place to stay, a hotel room, even transportation. We try to eliminate some of the bureaucracy they go through to get benefits or assistance. If we’ve got the funds, we’re here to help.”
“John and Cyndie Lopez are truly making a difference for homeless veterans and families in need, and have had an amazing impact on campus as well,” Bozigian said. “We are eager to support Helping Homeless Veterans-LA in any way that we can. They are allowing many of our Pioneer families to have a happy holiday season, and we thank them for all they do for us.”
For information on how to donate to Helping Homeless Veterans-LA, visit their Facebook, Instagram or Square webpages.