As a young boy, Steve Xiarhos would marvel at the sights and sounds of the aircraft at the then-Otis Air Force Base, where his dad was stationed as a member of the US Air Force and later worked as a civilian.
A generation later, he still marvels at the aircraft on static display, symbols of both the storied history of what is today Joint Base Cape Cod (JBCC) and of the service and sacrifice of so many whose boots touched the Cape Cod soil and whose dedication to a higher purpose touches our hearts. That example of service from his dad inspired Steve in his youth and led him to his own life of service. He served four decades as a police officer in Yarmouth, retiring as deputy chief. Today, his service continues on that same military base where he watched jets fly overhead in his youth, serving as a volunteer for and active board member of the Food4Vets program, one of the multitudes of amazing efforts of the Massachusetts Military Support Foundation (MMSF).
MMSF founder and CEO Don Cox, whose tireless efforts on behalf of veterans and their families have impacted, improved, and changed thousands of lives, noted that Steve is “an amazing individual” and that he has “respect for his time, talent, and undying efforts.” Don and Steve share the same commitment to giving back; Don’s simple mantra for his work on behalf of veterans is that “They raised their right hand and did their job. Now it’s time for us to do our job.”
Armed with that inspiration, when Don Cox asked Steve Xiarhos to join the board of directors of the Food4Vets program, Steve did not hesitate. Steve’s inspiration goes deeper, though. He is a Gold Star Father, having lost his son Nick, who died while in service to his country as a US Marine in Afghanistan in 2009. The last words Nick said to his mother during a phone call shortly before his death were, “I’m living the dream.” Today, by giving his time to the Food4Vets program at JBCC, Steve is continuing to fulfill his son’s dream of service. The MMSF website describes the Food4Vets program and explains that, “In response to the massive food insecurity problem posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, we focus on sourcing, packaging and distributing Vital Meal Kits (VMKs). These contain nonperishable and well-balanced meals. Each food package contains enough food and nutritional value for two people to have three meals a day for 14 days. Our distribution process follows all COVID-19 health guidelines. Participants have limited interaction as they pick up their VMKs, which are easy to access. To date, we have provided more than 3.5 million meals to Veterans and Military families.” Steve Xiarhos spent 40 years driving a police cruiser then, as a volunteer for the Food4Vets program, he was asked to drive a 26-foot delivery truck. “I had never driven a big truck. Now I drive a big truck everywhere,” he said with a broad smile, his passion for his new life of service evident.
“We need good news,” Steve said to me as we met for breakfast at the Talk of the Town Restaurant in North Falmouth this week. His service to others and what he sees from other volunteers and the impact they have is that good news. “I see humanity,” he simply said in observation of his volunteer work. His ebullient personality and infectious smile are combined with a steely determination to make a difference and honor his son’s legacy. That’s a powerful combination, and veterans on Cape Cod and beyond are now the beneficiaries. He told a powerful and compelling story to me about one of his food delivery missions, where he began the distribution of food—as he always does—with the Pledge of Allegiance, a prayer and the story of his son. His law enforcement training taught him keen observation. He noticed that several members of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang were in attendance. However, their shared humanity united, not divided them. Steve soon found one of the bikers crying on his shoulder. “When you’re feeding vets it doesn’t matter,” he observed, demonstrating that the Food4Vets program is about far more than providing food—it’s about providing hope and promoting shared humanity.
For Steve Xiarhos, honoring his son is not a partisan issue. He has met with both President Obama and President Trump in his capacity as a Gold Star parent. Recently while in Washington, DC, to attend a Gold Star event at the White House, he was jogging and stopped to thank some nearby police officers for their service. While they were sharing their stories, some peaceful protestors came by carrying Black Lives Matter signs. The police, Steve, and the protesters had a conversation. They shared their humanity. Then they prayed together. “You can make your points, but we’re all still human,” he noted to me in describing this event that is all too rare these days, but a beacon of how things could be.
Living that commitment to a shared humanity is also service to others. By delivering food to veterans, and by recognizing our shared humanity, Steve Xiarhos is serving us all.