Doherty High School's Navy Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps recently donated 800 cans of food to Springs Rescue Mission for their annual Thanksgiving meal. (Courtesy of Greg Thomas)

As Coloradans struggle to navigate a balance between treasured holiday traditions and the gathering limits set by the state health department, it may be easy to forget that hundreds of people in Colorado Springs will spend the holidays cold and hungry, without a place to stay.

Retired Navy Capt. Greg Thomas, who heads Doherty High School’s Navy Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, had the city’s homeless in mind when he and his 115 cadets recently delivered 800 cans of food to the Springs Rescue Mission for their upcoming Thanksgiving meal.

Thomas said the donation was part of a food and clothing drive they hold each year in honor of Esteban Ornelas, a former cadet who died in 2006 from injuries suffered in a car crash. Ornelas organized the cadets’ first clothing drive in 2000. The group added food to the collection effort in 2010, and added blankets in 2017.

Since the inception of the humanitarian drive, Doherty cadets have collected more than 22,000 items of clothing and thousands of pounds of food, Thomas said. They  spent about three weeks collecting the 800 cans of food for this year's donation.

Contrary to popular belief, the reserve officers’ training corps is not a feeder program for the military, said Thomas, who has instructed cadets for 11 years. The program focuses on developing students into well-rounded young adults, regardless of whether they ever serve in uniform.

“We offer a curriculum and leadership opportunities no other program in the school offers,” Thomas said.

Community service is an integral part of the program, and the students received credit for gathering and distributing the food.

Springs Rescue Mission puts out a Thanksgiving spread each year as one of three community outreach meals it hosts for the homeless. It also dishes out food on Easter and Christmas. The Doherty cadets plan to donate more food in December, in a addition to clothing and blankets, Thomas said.

Thomas said he knows his group can’t eliminate homelessness in Colorado Springs. But they can help make sure some of the city’s less fortunate are a little warmer, and a little less hungry, this holiday season.

Colorado Springs area nonprofit volunteer opportunities list Nov. 17
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