Military non-profit restores soul food restaurant in Kashmere Gardens

R&B music wafted over the speakers as a group of volunteers assembled a storage shed outside a Kashmere Gardens restaurant on Saturday morning.

Much-needed maintenance recently forced the temporary closure of Heavenly Choices, a neighborhood staple known for its soul food and its generosity distributing hundreds of meals a week to hungry families during the pandemic. The nonprofit’s efforts will help the restaurant reopen Sunday.

Tramashika DeWalt, a volunteer platoon leader, said The Mission Continues allows veterans to use their skills to connect with like-minded others and with community service opportunities across the country. In Texas, roughly 10,000 veterans are affiliated with the nonprofit, which started in 2007.

“The military trains us to be mission-oriented, to be detail-oriented,” said DeWalt, 35, who served in the U.S. Army as a military police investigator. “When you come into civilian life, it’s not that fast-paced let’s get the job done, let’s get the mission done…so, you have a safe haven where they understand your language, they understand how your mind goes.”

The Houston group’s effort is also part of Operation Nourish, a larger nationwide push to help with food insecurity issues that have arisen because of coronavirus. At the start of the pandemic, Darilyn Johnson, the owner of Heavenly Choices, began feeding senior citizens in need. Then, Johnson also started providing food to hungry children. Johnson’s endeavor grew to feeding over 525 families each week.

Johnson was the significant other of DeWalt’s grandfather before he passed away. DeWalt recalled how people packed the restaurant on Sundays to enjoy Johnson’s soul food.

Tiffany Tramaine, who served in the Navy five years, said being involved in The Mission Continues for nearly a decade helps her stay involved in community outreach. It’s also helping the 32-year-old connect with Houston, where she moved 10 months ago and has spent much of her time in quarantine.

She said Saturday’s community service project allowed her to immerse herself in Houston culture.

“Community leaders of all types should have support and I’m happy to give them that,” said Tramaine.

Byron Biggins, 53, decided to drive from Dallas around 4 a..m. to participate in the service project Saturday. The former Marine was looking for a way to connect with fellow veterans.

Joining the organization last summer gave him the camaraderie he missed in the military.

On Saturday, he worked alongside others to help build a storage shed, so Johnson could have another place to keep items for her restaurant.

Inside, a group of volunteers helped sort and organize items for Johnson. They also replaced worn down tables with new stainless steel ones.

“At the end of the day, it’s about service to the community (because) I think we’re all put here to serve in one capacity or the other,” said Biggins.

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Gallery: Military non-profit restores soul food restaurant in Kashmere Gardens (Houston Chronicle)

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