Wednesday, August 26, 2015

PMQ Band Offers Slice of Hope, Beats Memphis Blues

At PMQ, we usually cover pizza news, not make it. But on August 20 at Barron Heights Transition Center in Memphis, two of my colleagues became the face of a Slice of Hope celebration that brought smiles and pizza to some guys who just needed a break. Slice of Hope is the national pizza party outreach program founded by Indian-American actor and host of Bollywood-focused TV shows Obeid Kadwani. The organization sponsors events each summer in shelters in 25 states. Its mission, in Kadwani’s words, is to “Create one real moment of joy for folks who are facing tremendous hardships and challenges.”

The concept is to use pizza, music and friendship to kindle some hope in people who are down on their luck or just haven’t enjoyed a decent meal in a while. At Barron Hills, the audience for this particular “Party of Hope” was veterans. Many are being treated for drug addiction. PMQ staff members Brian Hernandez and Daniel Perea joined me for the 45-minute drive from PMQ’s Oxford, Mississippi, headquarters to the shelter site in downtown Memphis. I took the photos you see here and talked to residents like Ivory, former Navy member, Tommy, who served as a Marine from 1973-1976 and David who saw combat as an Army truck driver in the Persian Gulf.

While I wielded a camera, Daniel and Brian picked up their instruments and rocked Ivory, Tommy and David along with about 30 of their military brothers as the musical entertainment and MCs for the event. The concert took place just after a van delivered dozens of Little Caesars pizzas. The hungry men lined up for a slice and then took their seats in the Barron Heights meeting room.

It was time to boogy! Playing a variety of blues, rock and country favorites, Brian on acoustic guitar and harmonica and Daniel on electric guitar solicited requests from the appreciative vets. They picked up the musical pace inspiring their mostly 50-60 year-old fans to clap, whistle and dance to standards like Elvis’ “Good Rockin’ Tonight” and The Stray Cats’ “Stray Cat Strut.”

One of those veteran most moved by the infectious PMQ-supplied rhythms was Ivory, aged 60, who said he had returned to his Memphis home that very day from Dallas. The soft-spoken former Harrier jet mechanic said he came home to fight his drug addiction and depression.  “I’ve got things I need to do with my family and this is the starting point for me to get things under control,” Ivory says.

Another former Barron Heights client is now a drug abuse councilor. Derix served in the Army from 1977-1982 and fought his own alcohol and drug addiction for 40 years. He got his own life in order after going through the program at Barron Heights. “Now I return here every so often to encourage the guys,” says the big man who couldn’t resist shaking his money maker to the PMQ Band’s grooves.

After Brian and Daniel were finished playing, the vets who hadn’t left for their next treatment session thanked us for bringing some variety into their journey of recovery and transition.  As an Air Force veteran myself, it was a privilege to serve these American patriots in even a small way. But as I watched Brian and Daniel pack up their guitars and amps, I knew it was their musical talent that made the biggest difference in the hearts of warriors still battling for their futures and families. It was a team win we’ll all remember--and so will the guys at Barron Heights.




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