Program Update: Cooking with Veterans

Monthly class teaches cooking skills, provides meals, and offers fellowship for veterans

At least once a month, the kitchen in Building 209 on the West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs Campus comes to life with the sounds of fellowship and the scent of a home-cooked meal, as the building’s residents – all U.S. military veterans who had previously experienced chronic homelessness – are treated to a step-by-step cooking class, complete with a catered lunch to taste-test their work. The entire program is free to attend and regularly draws a lively gathering of residents who stop by to eat, chat, and enjoy each other’s company.

Dr. Susie Lyons, Director of Veteran Education at Brentwood School, is the driving force behind this monthly luncheon. Each month, Dr. Lyons selects a healthy and easy-to-make meal to present to Step Up’s veteran members who live on the campus. With the help of the Brentwood School kitchen, she brings all the ingredients for the demonstration, along with a buffet of food for attendees to enjoy for lunch that day. She also provides printed recipes for members to take with them for future reference.

On this sunny day in May, the recipe of the month is a Summer Pasta Salad, although previous meals have been gazpacho, Mongolian beef, salad building, and fried green tomatoes. The vibrant pasta dish, best served cold, includes local vegetables and a zesty dressing. It makes a serving big enough for leftovers – a request that Dr. Lyons often receives from members.

“Many of our residents are cooking for one,” said Dr. Lyons, “so we try to focus on foods that are just as delicious hot, cold, or leftover.”

Dr. Lyons and her team of Brentwood School volunteers have hosted classes for Step Up members at the West LA VA Campus since before the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to cooking classes, they also host reading clubs and fitness classes.

The impact that these classes have on Step Up members is immense.

“We laugh and we talk, and that’s how we keep stepping up for each other,” says Stanley, a U.S. Army Veteran and Step Up member living at Building 209. “Living with this community of veterans is truly a blessing. It means the world to me.”

Step Up’s residences on the West LA Veterans Affairs campus are part of a permanent supportive housing program designed specifically for veterans who have experienced chronic homelessness and serious mental health disorders. Offering pro-social support and recreation opportunities is crucial to helping veterans learn new skills, rebuild, and live lives of hope and dignity.

“We have the chance now to give back to many of our nation’s heroes who have made personal sacrifices and fought for our freedoms,” said Dr. Lyons. “The impact on our community is immeasurable.”

You can help support cooking, fitness, and other programs like Dr. Lyons’! To make a donation that helps support veterans experiencing homelessness, please visit

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