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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Soldiers Organized Services, known to locals as SOS, has provided free airport transportation for more than 100,000 of America’s heroes since 2007—saving active-duty military personnel, as well as their loved ones, in excess of $15 million.

The mission is funded through the generous donations of corporations, philanthropic organizations and patriotic individuals from all over the Coachella Valley.

Explosive growth has created new challenges for this Palm Desert nonprofit—and its new Veterans Communications Center is playing a key role in the expansion.

SOS plans to offer free transportation for area veterans to the Veterans Affairs Hospital at Loma Linda, and help with that mission came from Desert Adventures, operators of the popular Red Jeep Tours, which was about to retire a 1994 Dodge Ram minivan. It had some good years left, so with the help of local businesses and donors, it has been restored and donated to SOS.

“The van needed repair, and I was trying to decide whether to fix it or junk it when I saw a news report about SOS,” says Bob Schneider, of Desert Adventures. “I have always liked what that organization did for our Marines from the Twentynine Palms Marine Base. So I approached my mechanic and several local organizations to come on board for the donation.”

Schneider approached Erica Stone, founding director of SOS, about the donation, and she was thrilled with the idea. “It needed about $4,000 in repairs to make it reliable enough for freeway travel, so with the help of the Palm Springs Hospitality Association, The Rotary Club of Palm Springs, and Palms to Pines Automotive, the van is now in tip-top shape.

“Bob was tireless in seeking out collaboration for this project, and thanks to his efforts, and the time, money and expertise from the other benefactors, we can now safely transport our valley veterans to important appointments.”

All of SOS’ services—including free transportation, the Resale Boutique, and the Veterans Communications Center—are offered by local volunteers. These men and women, some retired and some still working, offer their time and talents to make life easier for our brave men and women of the United States Marine Corps, and now all valley veterans, through the efforts of the new Veterans Communications Center, and the Resale Boutique.

The SOS Resale Boutique, 77851 Las Montanas Road in Palm Desert, not only offers a wide range of gently used clothing; it also offers an abundance of household items, including appliances and furniture. All proceeds from the sale of these items go to support the mission of SOS to provide active-duty military personnel transportation to and from the Palm Springs and Ontario international airports. Now, with so many elderly veterans living longer, and needing more assistance, the boutique has found a new mission. Just recently, with recommendations from the Veterans Communication Center staff, SOS was able to furnish an entire apartment for a veteran in need—from bedroom furniture to living room furniture, with everything in between. Needless to say, that proud veteran was shown how much his fellow countrymen and women value his service.

The Veterans Communication Center is expanding its offerings. In addition to free transportation to the VA Hospital, the center will continue to be a clearinghouse of information regarding benefits—federal, state and local, for all honorably discharged service men and women. Adult-education classes will also be held at the center, on topics such as remedial banking, computer literacy training and household budgeting. Erica Stone talked about an elderly veteran, widowed after more than 50 years of marriage, who was unable to write a simple bank check, let alone balance a checkbook. His beloved wife handled all of their monetary affairs. With the help of volunteers at the center, that man can now write his own checks and be sure his bills are paid on time.

These are just a few examples of the community outreach SOS provides to a segment of the population that is too often overlooked: Men and women who have served their country with honor and bravery, perhaps decades ago, are somehow forgotten.

“They’re easy to spot,” Stone says. “Go to any parade, and watch to see who stands up and salutes the flag, sometimes out of a wheelchair, while the youngsters simply ignore it. They have paid their dues, and did their duty, and never forgot why. For that reason alone, we owe them our deepest gratitude.

As with most charitable organizations, SOS and its subsidiaries are in constant need of volunteers to help fulfill its many missions. Not only does SOS need a steady army of daily drivers; the organization is also looking for people to do office work, serve as sales and stocking clerks for the boutique, reach out to the community, assist with public relations and teach the adult-education classes.

For volunteer information, or to donate, visit www.sosride.org, or call 760-200-2345.

John DiViggiano is a volunteer driver and offers public-relations support for SOS.

Published in Community Voices

Desert Adventures is well known for eco-tours of locations including the San Andreas Fault and Joshua Tree—and during Palm Springs Desert Resorts Restaurant Week, the company will be offering something special for foodies.

On a regular basis, Desert Adventures does a tour of the Palm Springs Indian Canyons for $125. However, during Restaurant Week, the tour will also include lunch at a downtown Palm Springs restaurant such as Trio, Las Casuelas Terraza, Grind Brgr Bar or Kaiser Grille.

Palm Springs Desert Resorts Restaurant Week takes place this year from Friday, May 30, through Sunday, June 8. The week began in 2007 with less than 30 participating businesses; this year, more than 100 are participating. Restaurants offer three-course prix-fixe meals for either $26 or $38, and a number of other businesses—such as Desert Adventures—offer special deals as well.

“You can take the tour, and we’ll give you a voucher good for a free lunch at any one of those locations,” said Bob Schneider, president and CEO of Desert Adventures. “So you have the opportunity to sample some of their food during the lunch hour, and figure out whether or not you want to go back at dinner time.”

As for how the restaurants were selected, Schneider it had to do with the relationships he has with the restaurants’ owners and their willingness to partner with him. He said he’s proud of the diversity of food offered.

“I think from a luncheon perspective, there’s really a broad array there,” Schneider said. “… You really have something for everybody there. You can’t go wrong, and it just depends on what your palate is like, and what you have a taste for on a particular day.”

Desert Adventures is also offering tours during Restaurant Week of the San Andreas Fault, with a meal included at either the Crab Pot or Jackalope Ranch.

Restaurant Week gives foodies a chance to try food at restaurants they may never have considered at a discount, and Schneider thinks more locals need to get in on the action.

“One of the things we’re trying to stress this year with Restaurant Week is we’re really going to zero in on people in the valley and people who live here,” Schneider said. “As I go around the valley and meet with my friends, I’m amazed at how many people don’t know about Restaurant Week and the value that’s represented there.”

Schneider said he loves to try new restaurants himself during the summer months.

“My wife and I make a point of it every year. We’ve done this for the last two years where we get groups of people together; we pick different restaurants; and we go as a group. So the six to 10 of us will go out and try a restaurant, and it’s really been kind of fun. You don’t have a hard time getting a reservation. … It gives you a great opportunity to get out there and experience the restaurants that are available to us in the valley.” 

For more information on Palm Springs Desert Resorts Restaurant Week, visit www.palmspringsrestaurantweek.com.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

Palm Springs is known for its large, vibrant gay population—and, therefore, for gay tourism as well.

Enter Desert Adventures, and its new Gay Icons of Palm Springs Tour.

Headquartered in Palm Desert, Desert Adventures offers a variety of local Jeep tours to the San Andreas Fault, Joshua Tree and the Indian Canyons. One of Desert Adventures’ guides, Bob Gross of Rancho Mirage, had the idea for the new tour.

“The company was looking to expand our outreach and make sure both locals and visitors knew our tours were fun and available to be led by gay guides like myself or another guide, Carlos Salas,” said Gross, who joined the company about two years ago after retiring from AT&T. “As for the Icons Tour, specifically, things get kind of slow for us during the summer due to the heat, so I went to my boss and said I'd like to create a city tour that included some of the rich gay history of the city, from its earliest days right through the present, including some of the famous gay and lesbian residents and icons of the community who lived here. He said, ‘Have at it,’ so I spent July and August doing the research and creating a tour that I hope will be interesting and fun.”

The first stop is the site where Lois Kellogg, a Chicago socialite rumored to be a lesbian, arrived in Palm Springs in 1914 or so and built a large home that once occupied an area which now includes a Rite Aid store. The home had a Moroccan-Persian-style exterior and a large swimming pool, as well as a stable and guest quarters. That particular block of Palm Canyon Drive at the end of the downtown strip now looks completely different, and one has to wonder what the large home would have looked like there.

The tour also goes through the Warm Sands area. It was a family-friendly area during the ’50s and ’60s, before disintegrating into a high-crime area in the 1970s, and then being revived as a gay-resort area. Howard Hughes once owned El Mirasol Villas; it later became what’s believed to be Palm Springs’ first gay resort, in 1976. Close by is the Vista Grande—the first clothing-optional gay resort, which opened in 1984.

The tour stops at two of the homes that Liberace owned. The home on Kaweah Road has a sign that reads “Plazza de Liberace.” A miniature piano and piano stool serves as the mailbox for the home. Another former home on Belardo Road, where Liberace died in 1987, is currently being renovated to restore it to the state it was in when Liberace purchased it. It was said during the tour that Liberace had a large candelabra on the home, as well as a gate with a big “L” and a music note on it. While those markings are gone, and the home currently is a construction zone, it’s located behind Our Lady of Solitude, the church that was shown in the funeral scene in Behind the Candelabra.

The Gay Icons of Palm Springs Tour is available through Desert Adventures for $59 and runs about 90 minutes. For tour reservations or questions, call 760-324-5337 or visit www.red-jeep.com.

Published in Features