NEW PORT RICHEY — When Nicholas Scrima first joined friend Clark Schueller to eat at Mozzini's Pizzeria, the pizza parlor of a fellow biker and veteran, he was a bit perplexed.
Scrima couldn't help but notice the number of men in ragged clothing who streamed in to dine at the restaurant. But once he learned who the men were and why they were there, he couldn't help but be amazed.
Scrima's first visit to Mozzini's happened to be on a Thursday, the day when veterans in need are provided free meals and drinks at the small pizzeria at Grand Boulevard and Trouble Creek Road. Dubbed "Veterans Day," veterans in need have been able to get a free meal at Mozzini's since its owner, Mozzi Miranda, bought the restaurant in September 2015.
"They come out every Thursday," Schueller said. "And Mozzi makes sure they get a hot meal."
Miranda said providing the free meals at the restaurant meets a need. He said there is a large community of homeless veterans in the area who live in housing provided by the Veterans Administration.
"The VA sets them up with housing, but that's about it," Miranda said. "They still need to eat."
So Miranda makes sure that veterans who are down on their luck have a place to eat. Every Thursday, veterans can peel off a ticket at the front counter to use as money to purchase food and a drink. That way, they get food without drawing attention from other patrons, allowing them to keep their dignity.
"Nobody wants to say they are a homeless veteran," Miranda said. "And this allows them to come and eat together as brothers."
Miranda's efforts don't go unnoticed. Veterans who walk through Mozzini's doors learn about the free meals from VA centers, church and out on the street. And donations from the community pour in — not only monetary, but also clothing and toiletries to distribute to the veterans.
In recent months, Miranda's friends from the Bay Area Riders, a motorcycle group, have also decided to help out and have organized several "Bike Nights" at Mozzini's to help raise money. One recent event raised about $400 for meals.
"This really hits home and is a great cause," said Jessie Nemri, Bike Night organizer. "You know who it helps. You see who it helps."
Miranda matches all donations that are made to help provide food for the veterans. It's his way of paying it forward. He knows how difficult life is for some of the veterans who come through his doors. He also said many really don't like to talk, except among themselves.
"But when I tell them what I went through, they open up," Miranda said. "They get more spirited."
Miranda was once in their shoes. Years ago, after serving in the Army, he found himself homeless on the streets of New York City. He credits a Marine for changing all that.
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"I begged him for money, and instead he gave me a job," Miranda recalled. "He pulled me up."
And that is what Miranda hopes to do with local veterans. He wants to give them a lift up and help them get back on their feet.
"It's an incredible thing what he's doing here," said friend and fellow veteran Tommy Van Valin of Spring Hill. "Mozzi is very devoted. He's reaching out and trying to help."