Service to others is woven into the fabric of Loretta Coleman’s life. She spent 10 years in the U.S. Armed Forces, including four years of active duty in the Air Force and six years in the Army Reserve. She’s currently an AmeriCorps member, managing the Greater Chicago Food Depository veterans pantry at Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago.

“There’s always an opportunity to lend a helping hand, no matter how small,” she said. “It’s a part of who I am.”

In honor of her dedication to service, Loretta was invited by U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) in January to attend the State of the Union address in Washington, D.C.

“I felt honored to be chosen,” she said. “From the moment I got off the plane, it was a whirlwind experience.”

Loretta was excited to be a part of President Obama’s final State of the Union, but was even more appreciative of what the President said about the importance of those serving our country.

“That’s part of what makes this nation great – that people are willing to give of themselves,” she said.

In addition to attending the address, Loretta took a tour of the White House and the Washington monuments.

She returned home with a reinforced conviction that helping others should be an important part of everyone’s lives. She also returned home with hope – that despite the continuing need among veterans in Cook County, there’s progress being made.

“I’d like to see a day when we don’t need food pantries for veterans, but the reality is that we do,” she said. “But I know how grateful they are, and how much we’re making a difference.”

The veterans pantries at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center and Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital serve as many as 3,000 individuals per month.