When Alyssa Dixon, 12, began studying for her Oct. 13 bat mitzvah, her mother suggested she help veterans for her community service project. Alyssa opted to join family friend Martin Dean Dupalo in his grass-roots effort to help veterans.
Each weekend Dupalo, a Sunrise resident and homeless advocate, visits two stores - Whole Foods Market at Town Square Las Vegas, 6689 Las Vegas Blvd. South, and Trader Joe's at 2716 N. Green Valley Parkway - and collects any food with shelf dates about to expire. He then delivers it to two veterans groups downtown. Each Saturday since early April, Alyssa has pitched in to help him.
"I wanted to get involved because I like helping others, and I thought this was going to be a great idea ... because of my personality," said Alyssa, a student at The Adelson School, 9700 Hillpointe Road. "I help others any way that I can.
"The first time was an exhilaration because there were lots of places to go ---- Whole Foods at Town Square and Trader Joe's on Sunset ... we went to four places and had to do it in a time frame ... because the food (needs refrigeration)."
Dupalo does not have refrigeration in his vehicle.
Her first time collecting food, Alyssa said she expected to fill half of Dupalo's SUV. But they actually collected enough to fill the entire thing. Sometimes there's hardly room in the vehicle, she said.
"You have to put bags at your feet if it gets too crowded," she said, "or you just have to stuff it really good, like a jigsaw puzzle."
Whole Foods Market donates bakery items. Alyssa and Dupalo go into the store like regular customers and take an empty shopping cart to the bakery area, where they meet with a store representative. The empty cart is swapped for one from the back, already filled with breads and muffins and other bakery items.
"They bring us a cart or two, and there are at least three bags in there," Alyssa said. "Sometimes it's overflowing. ... It's very heavy. It's really hard to push."
Within 15 minutes, they're unpacking the items into Dupalo's Chevy Tahoe and heading off to Trader's Joe's. That's where they pick up refrigerated food.
At Trader Joe's, they go around to the back of the store, where the delivery trucks unload. A quick phone call alerts a store representative to their arrival, and they're allowed inside.
"It's really cold in there," Alyssa said. "If you've been waiting in the hot weather for, like, 10 minutes, you step in there, and it cools you down."
There, they pick up about 10 cartons of refrigerated food - vegetables, cheeses, ready-made sandwiches and salads.
With the hot weather, time is of the essence. Besides being the last stop, how do they ensure the food stays cold?
"You drive fast," she said.
VFW Club Post 1753, 4337 Las Vegas Blvd. North, and U.S. Vets, 525 E. Bonanza Road, are in close proximity to each other near downtown Las Vegas. Shalimar Cabrera is executive director of U.S. Vets, which can house up to 260 men. She said from time to time, the organization sees volunteers bringing their kids with them, "which we love because we believe in starting that ethic of service early ... but they're not typically tweens."
She said Alyssa's self-propelled initiative was laudable.
"I think it means she's been raised really well, the fact that she's seeking out ways that she can give back to her community," Cabrera said.
At the VFW, workers help unload the food, which is used for Sunday brunch. Then the pair head over to U.S. Vets, which gets the bulk of the donation, about 80 percent, Alyssa estimated. Her mother, Debra Lazer, was impressed with the amount and variety.
"They ate like kings and queens," she said. "Well, only kings because there are only men there."
Dupalo began making the weekend food runs five years ago. He said he has had other people join him now and then "but never a 12-year-old ... it's refreshing. ... When we were at Trader Joe's ... she'll say things, one of those 'out-of-the-mouth-of-babes' kind of things. She was like, 'Wow, there's a lot of food here. We can give this to a lot of people.' This is her, picking up on these things without my prompting. It's (her epiphany that) yes, you can do this on your own volition. You don't need a $20 million grant program."
The effort takes up three hours of Alyssa's Saturday. She is required to do only 20 hours of service but said she plans to continue until she goes to sleepaway camp July 26.
"It gives me a warm feeling to know that I'm going to be bringing all this food to people who need it," Alyssa said.
Contact Summerlin/Summerlin South View reporter Jan Hogan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 387-2949.