TAMPA, Fla. — Army Veteran Jim Griffin served 23 years in the U.S. Army and while he’s retired, he’s not finished serving.

What You Need To Know

  • The nonprofit Operation Helping Hand benefits veterans and families 

  • Army Veteran Jim Griffin, who served 23 years in the U.S. Army, is the chairman

  • A free dinner is offered the third Thursday of every month

“I’m still serving. Operation Helping Hand means you’re still serving. We honor all the veterans, active duty or retired that are in the service in VA hospital," said Griffin, who is chairman of the nonprofit.

“We fill a real gap,” said Griffin of helping wounded veterans and their families. “We provide probably a $1,500 gift bag when they arrive, we fly them in for holidays, we provide them gas chips, anything they need because a patient will usually get here without anything they need from the hospital.”

A free dinner is also offered the third Thursday of every month.

“I think it means a lot because this is a gap that we bring everybody together to recognize and honor the veterans and have a really great time,” said Griffin.

It’s camaraderie Navy Veteran I.J. Karpay can appreciate.

“I’m happy to say that I’m a WWII veteran. There are very few of us left.”

Karpay attended the dinner in November and welcomed the chance to make new friends.

“Thats’ the first time anything like that happened to me and I was overwhelmed,” said Karpay.

Overwhelmed and embracing the opportunity to connect with other veterans.

“I sailed with the Merchant Marine, I was there for protection, I was there as a Signalman,” said Karpay.

Connecting with veterans who can relate.

“It got rough to look up from the bridge to see 50 feet above you to see water. An 18-year-old today even today thinks they’re invincible,” described Karpay of one of what he says was one of the scariest experiences in the service.

Now at 97, Karpay says he’s loving life, and he’s grateful for knowing where to go for a helping hand; one Griffin, a fellow veteran, is grateful to extend.

To RSVP for the dinner, veterans can call 813-771-8744.