Rain fell in torrents, driven nearly sideways by the merciless Spanish wind, soaking through the thick material of a navy uniform to the skin and turning an otherwise cool November afternoon into a frigid, aching cold. On the bed of the truck, rivulets of water pooled, then flowed between boxes of donations as freezing fingers worked frantically to unload the boxes before their contents were as wet as the hands that moved them. A few miles away, Sailors sat down to Thanksgiving dinner with their families, in the warm shelter of their homes, but for Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Joshua Espinoza, hard, cold work in the pouring rain was a better way to start the holiday weekend.
“I'm doing something that has purpose right now,” said Espinoza. “That is going to benefit somebody in the immediate future. So that made me feel good.”
When Espinosa arrived at Naval Station (NAVSTA) Rota, he was looking for ways to contribute to the local community through volunteer service. What he found was the Giveback Project – an initiative started by Lt. Cmdr Christon Duhon and Hospitalman Manuel Soto with the help of Scouts BSA Troop 73. The program accepts donations of food and non-perishable items, as well as an online donation fund where all proceeds are used to buy food and other essentials at stores in the local community. The donations are then distributed within the local community by churches, soup kitchens and orphanages to residents who are facing difficult times brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It gives me a new appreciation for southern Spain,” said Espinoza. “I didn't realize there were many homeless and needy because when you look in the streets, you might see one homeless person, maybe. Just being able to give back to the local community feels good.”
Since he first became involved, Espinoza has taken over the program and worked hard to help it grow. The cardboard boxes at the donation sites have been replaced with large reinforced military grade plastic boxes that hold many more donations and can withstand rain and sun without any problems. Monetary contributions have nearly doubled to more than $2,000, and physical donations have increased from 750 pounds to more than 5,000 pounds of food, clothes and toys. He has also worked hard to make the program more visible, through social media, photo campaigns and advertising.
“It helps to show we're here for a reason,” said Espinoza. “We're not just here, because we're stationed here, we care about the community. We know that people are losing their jobs, we know that the pandemic has had a huge economic impact on the local economy. So however we can help, we're here to help.”
The opportunity to get involved and volunteer is one that Espinoza encourages everyone to take. Many servicemembers from NAVSTA Rota who volunteer at food lines and soup kitchens will find themselves distributing the same donations collected by the Giveback Project. For those who can’t volunteer their time, opportunity to donate money or goods also has a huge impact. Donations, which cannot be legally purchased at the base commissary, provide a double benefit to the community since those purchases help to employ people working in the area. For people who are able to both donate and volunteer, the experience can be the most rewarding of all.
“I've been volunteering since I was a kid,” said Espinoza. “In high school, I was involved in church, and we did the soup kitchens for the homeless, as well as hanging out with the retirees at a convalescent home. So it's not something new to me. It's something I enjoy doing. And so I always like to give back. My wife and kids love it. I tell my kids about giving to people who don't have so much. And I reiterate that to my son all the time, teaching him, helping the next generation to pay it forward and give back.”