Cause and Effect: Operation Good to Go; Serving Those Who Served
On the day I caught up with Tracey DiVita, he was searching the streets of Mather, the former Air Force Base east of Sacramento. As one of many gathering spots in the area for homeless veterans, DiVita visits the locale frequently. He’s a friendly face and a morale booster for the veterans that could use one.
As the founder of Operation Good To Go, a nonprofit based in El Dorado that seeks out veterans who are homeless and in need, DiVita’s search takes him up and down California, from Placerville and Yuba City to Napa (his hometown) and San Diego. Even when he goes to Hawaii on vacation, he finds himself stopping by the local VA to do his “reconnaissance.”
A United States Marine Corps combat veteran deployed early in the Iraq War, he served on the “front of the front lines” and was decorated for his service upon completion. Back home, he became a deputy sheriff—a fitting and proud profession for the former soldier—but after a time, he succumbed to PTSD, spending years in the throes of severe depression. It was during those dark days that DiVita learned a Marine buddy—a comrade whom he had served with for three years—committed suicide.
“It slapped me in the face. I was close to suicide myself, so it was just a matter of who went first. My buddy left two daughters, and it really woke me up,” he says. “I started looking into others from my platoon and found out that my brothers are hurting; they are falling left and right. I was screaming ‘enough is enough’ in my head.”
DiVita’s life turned around when he encountered a homeless veteran in Placerville. “The vet asked me for $10, so I offered him my bag of recycling,” he recalls. “As he walked away, I saw the guy had his belongings in a trash bag. My light bulb moment right then was ‘seabag’—for survival in the field of homelessness.”
It made total sense. Seabags are the large duffle bags that military personnel put their life in. Soon after, DiVita began filling them with supplies like sleeping bags, small tents, toiletries, and new clothes. After connecting with a vet, he takes him or her to lunch and gets their clothing sizes, then he heads to the store to buy new shirts, pants, shoes, and socks. “It’s like Christmas for them,” DiVita says. “I walk away with my head up knowing that they’re ‘good to go.’”
In addition, DiVita does special projects for children of veterans who have committed suicide, in honor of his friend and countless others.
Recently, Operation Good To Go was the recipient of the Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition from Congressman Tom McClintock. The organization also had a successful fund-raiser in early spring.
“It’s exciting as we discover more ways to help our vets and their families,” exclaims DiVita. “Businesspeople—like dentists, hairdressers, and dog groomers—are donating their services, and we’re reaching out to high schools to help kids of veterans who need lunch cards, yearbooks, and prom clothes. Currently, I’m working with a fifth grader whose dad is a veteran. This young man is stepping up to volunteer and collect seabag supplies at his school. If you lead by example, people will follow.” facebook.com/operationgoodtogo
by Janet Scherr
photos by Dante fontana