Chefs to welcome returning troops with Veterans Day lunch

Group effort started with nonprofit, launched forward with power of social media

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – Ten military members returning from deployment and their families will be getting some local love from chefs around St. Augustine.

Volunteers, chefs and restaurant owners will be welcoming the returning troops with a special lunch on Veterans Day at the Hamblen House Restaurant. 

It's a group effort that started with the nonprofit Troop Awards and launched forward with the power of social media.

In a search for a restaurant to host 10 military families visiting St. Augustine, one man hit the jackpot when a Facebook page, Auggies Fresh or Frightening Food Reviews, reached out to him and jumped at the chance to help out.

Matthew Giles, a volunteer with Troop Awards, said he never thought his Facebook post would gain so much attention.

"I am totally impressed," he told News4Jax. "It has exceeded my expectations."

But that's what happened when James Taylor, the creator of Auggies Fresh or Frightening Food Reviews, stepped in. 

"It's a food review group and people can get on there and talk about their experiences at different restaurants," Taylor explained. "The community, the restaurants just went crazy. They all wanted to help the vets. They all wanted to feed the vets and their families and be a part of that."

With more than 26,000 followers, he shared the post and was able to round up more than 10 chefs, including Michael Lugo from Michael's Tasting Room, and dozens of volunteers, ready to donate their time.

"I'm just overwhelmed with what I've seen this town do to support its military," Giles said.

It's a way chefs such as Lugo can use their talents in the kitchen and food industry to serve those who served.

"We know how important it is for us to give back to those who paid the ultimate price and sacrifice for us," Lugo said.

The 10 military families selected for the trip will get to spend the next few days visiting tourist attractions, such as the St. Augustine Alligator Farm, the Colonial Quarter and the St. Augustine Lighthouse, all while staying at the Guy Harvey Resort.