Honor with a Side of Hope
What better way to bring in the New Year than to honor our military personnel and veterans who have sacrificed ― some making the ultimate sacrifice ― to protect the freedoms we enjoy every day?
With this new year, I also like to believe and hope that as a caring country, we will support these brave men and women and their families in their transition from military to civilian life. Unfortunately, the transition sometimes involves dealing with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), which can be debilitating and require treatment beyond the resources of individuals or families.
One soldier who suffered and died as a result of PTSD was SFC Chris Souza of Montpelier, Virginia. Chris was a career soldier, earning over 30 commendations and medals, including the Bronze Star, from multiple combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was, without question, a true American hero.
Amanda Souza, Chris’ wife, wanted to do something for their community and other victims of PTSD. She decided to honor Chris and other returning soldiers for their sacrifice by opening a restaurant and establishing a foundation to help soldiers suffering from PTSD. After a year of planning and construction, Amanda opened Lunchbox 22. Lunchbox was Chris’ call sign on his combat missions. She wanted a restaurant that served New York-style deli fare, featuring wholesome and top-quality meats and ingredients. Amanda comments, “I wanted to serve meals as if I were cooking for Chris.” My first visit to Lunchbox 22, located on State Route 33 in Montpelier, Virginia, I ordered a Reuben sandwich. One of my favorite food writers, the late Anthony Bourdain, described the Reuben as “having a complex bundle of tastes and difficult to construct properly.” Anthony would have been proud of Amanda’s Reuben. It’s great, with piles of Boar’s Head corned beef thinly sliced, well-drained sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and the best Russian dressing I’ve tasted in a long time. And of course, a Reuben would not be a Reuben without rye bread grilled in butter. For dessert, I had a gourmet ice cream sandwich called “Nightingale.” This treat is handmade by Richmond executive chef, Hannah Pollack.
The menu at Lunchbox 22 has delights for everyone, with more than a dozen signature sandwiches and 10 different types of burgers. All of the sandwiches and burgers can be customized to suit your individual taste.
The Foundation The second part of Amanda’s mission was to put in motion a nonprofit, all-volunteer organization to help returning soldiers and their families deal with PTSD. “If I can help prevent one suicide resulting from PTSD, I can spare other families from the grief we have experienced,” says Amanda. According to some studies, more than a third of service personnel returning from Vietnam had some form of PTSD. We’re now in our most protracted armed conflict, and our servicemen and servicewomen are still returning home suffering from PTSD. We know more about PTSD, but resources to help sufferers can be difficult to find, or insufficient, due to the needs of the individual.
The traumas that our servicemen and servicewomen experienced on the rocky soil of Afghanistan or in the humid jungles of Vietnam
aren’t left in country and can become invisible wounds that travel home with the soldier. PTSD may not show up immediately, but surface later in life. Either way, it affects the individual and his or her loved ones for the rest of their lives.
Amanda, through her foundation, offers a lifeline to help returning service personnel and their families find understanding and resources. If you would like to learn more about the foundation, please go to chrissouza.org.
My interest in Lunchbox 22 started with a touching and compelling letter from Gayle Rice of Montpelier. In her handwritten letter, Ms. Rice says, “When I think of the sacrifice her husband gave and Amanda’s courage to open this business to honor our military, it thrills my heart.”