Creating a place of renewal, honor and connection for Tulsa’s war veterans
After losing her veteran son, Daniel, to suicide, Mary Ligon founded the Coffee Bunker to create a safe place for veterans to connect and build relationships with other veterans.
When Mary Ligon’s son, Daniel, returned home from his second tour in Iraq, she knew immediately that something was different. He was profoundly disturbed, exhibiting signs of post-traumatic stress syndrome and withdrawing from society. After losing her son to suicide in 2007, she became determined to use the tragedy to help others battling similar demons.
“When we got the call that we had lost Daniel, my heart just cried out to God, and I just thought, ‘God, you have to do something redemptive with this,’” Ligon reflects.
She envisioned creating a place where veterans could go to connect with others who had experienced the same circumstances and who longed for restoration.
“Daniel would tell me that he felt like there was no place to go where he could meet other veterans that had been in his boots,” Ligon shares. “He would say to me, ‘How can I learn to live in America again, when half of me is dead in Iraq?’”
Ligon founded the Coffee Bunker in 2010 as a non-judgmental, caring environment that offered a place to build relationships with other veterans, as well as resources to battle the struggles of reintegration. The name was chosen by the first veterans to be part of the outreach.
“The name spoke to me of warmth and welcome, as in a nice hot mug of coffee, and of safety and refuge (a bunker),” Ligon says.
After meeting at a local church for a few years, the current space opened at 6365 E. 41st St. The home-like atmosphere includes cozy lounge areas, a business center with access to computers and printers, a pool table, a crafting area and a kitchen.
At the Coffee Bunker, veterans can receive assistance to find housing and jobs, legal support, childcare and more.
The Coffee Bunker, which also serves veterans’ families and active-duty military, provides food and drinks at no charge. Doubleshot Coffee donates coffee beans monthly, and food is provided by several Tulsa-area bakeries and grocery stores and some local residents dubbed “The Cookie Ladies.”
“We didn’t want to just do a day or a parade to honor the veterans,” Ligon says. “They needed a place for themselves.
“People can come here at 11 a.m. and be here until 10 or 11 p.m. They can come every holiday; be celebrated and honored; and find meals, comfort, fellowship, camaraderie.”
The Coffee Bunker daily hosts approximately 55-75 veterans of all ages. Although Ligon is proud of the structured programs and resources it offers, she says that sometimes the best thing she and her staff can offer a hurting veteran is free — a hug.
“The key is that one-on-one time; just being available to listen,” she says. “There are people who come in here who haven’t been hugged in an awful long time.”
Terry “Tbone” Massey, a 64-year-old veteran and Coffee Bunker volunteer, says the Bunker renewed his sense of purpose.
“The Coffee Bunker is a place where you can feel that you belong,” he says. “The Bunker got me out of the house, where I just sat around and did nothing.”
Ligon’s vision for helping struggling veterans doesn’t stop at her single facility at East 41st Street and South Sheridan Road.
“I have always known that the Coffee Bunker was meant to spread,” she says. “The suicide rate is 22 per day for veterans nationwide. In the next 5-10 years, I would love to see an exponential rise in Coffee Bunker facilities, spreading through the whole nation.”
Through Ligon’s work helping veterans, she senses a renewal in her own heart.
“I feel like the luckiest lady in the whole world to have these special people all around me,” she says. “I could have been destroyed, but I wasn’t.”