John Zuercher

John Zuercher, who has raised and donated food and other items for homeless veterans in Long Beach, has started a Veterans Appreciation Club at Peninsula High School.

John Zuercher grew up hearing stories like the one about his great-grandfather standing on a U.S. Navy destroyer as it sunk a Japanese submarine.

He compared those to others he heard on the news about veterans facing homelessness and a host of other issues, and decided to do something to help.

So, as he went into his junior year at Peninsula High, Zuercher, now a senior, decided he would honor those who have served in the U.S. armed forces and help address some of the issues facing modern-day veterans as well.

“It’s important for high schoolers like me to learn about these problems and help combat them,” Zuercher said.

Out of that desire grew the Veterans Appreciation Club, a group founded by Zuercher to carry out service events to benefit veterans around the South Bay and elsewhere in Southern California.

After an initial event handing out thank you cards on Veterans Day with the help of members of the American Legion, Zuercher reached out to Shannon Teague, a homeless outreach social worker at the Veterans Affairs Long Beach Healthcare System. From there, he and other members of the club and other organizations Zuercher worked with collected more than 100 pairs of socks for homeless veterans.

After that initial contact, Teague assumed she wouldn’t hear from him again.

But, a while later, he was back in touch to find out what else the club could provide to help the service men and women the Long Beach organization works with. Teague told him plenty of veterans need food, and Zuercher launched another drive, this one to come up with snack kits filled with food items, such as crackers and beef jerky.

Teague said the VA staff still hands out the snacks and kits the club collected to veterans and families struggling to find food, or who haven’t eaten in days.

“Those small things make a really big difference to someone who doesn’t have those basic needs met,” Teague said. “This is something that’s going to be able to touch hundreds of people’s lives, if not more.”

Clubs like Zuercher’s show other students they can start something similar to address problems in their communities, Teague said.

“It gives other kids ideas to set up things like this and do things for the community and see that, even though they’re in high school, they can do something and be part of something to help their community and not just sit on the wayside,” she said.

Now, Zuercher has plans to increase the number of service events the group will carry out and find someone to take over running the club after he graduates.

As a senior he will be the director of community service for the Peninsula High ASB, and he hopes to develop a school-wide event to focus on veterans, he said.

And soon the club will have a footprint outside of Peninsula High. During a trip to Boys State, an American-Legion-sponsored event in Northern California, Zuercher spoke with a student from Palos Verdes High who agreed to found a Veterans Appreciation Club at PVHS.

Students at Boys State from other schools around the state said they’d also consider starting the group on their campuses, Zuercher said.

“I was really happy to learn that other people are ready and able and willing to continue something that started at one school,” he said.

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