In communities across our nation, COVID-19’s economic devastation has pushed families to the brink, adding to the number of households living in “food insecurity.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as a “household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.” Food insecurity is harmful to health—both physical and mental—and puts families in the position of making impossible decisions. Someone facing food insecurity might face questions like: “Do I pay for medicine or groceries? Can I afford to put gas in the tank and still buy food? If I skip meals, will my kids be able to eat?” Veterans aren’t immune to food insecurity, and some pre-COVID studies have even suggested that veterans may experience food insecurity at a higher rate than non-veterans.
In many cases, veterans are reluctant to ask for support, especially given our cultural affinity for independence and a lasting stigma about accessing food assistance. Thankfully, our Local Partners across the country already have deep connections and trusting relationships with their local veteran communities, and were in an optimal position to help meet this need as it grew. When the Bob Woodruff Foundation issued Local Partner stimulus funding—a flexible program designed to catalyze our partners' impact in the fight against COVID-19—more than half of our Local Partners used at least a portion of their awarded funds to help put food on the table for veteran families. We’re highlighting just a few of their inspiring stories:
In Ann Arbor, Michigan, a new Fisher House was recently opened to provide lodging for the families of hospitalized veterans and those who must travel to seek VA medical treatment. Normally, community members would organize a meal train, volunteering their time to prepare meals with donated ingredients. Due to COVID, that wasn’t possible, so the Region 9 Veterans Community Action Team allocated their stimulus funds to help provide more than a month’s worth of groceries for Fisher House guests, serving about 220 veterans and family members!
In Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on the last Wednesday of every month, Support Siouxland Soldiers distributes an average of 5,000 lbs of food to 100 veteran families! They were able to stretch their stimulus funding to reach more veterans (an estimated 750) through a smart partnership: “Every nonprofit should look into partnering with their local food bank, because we pay $1000.00 for 5,000 lbs of food,” says Sarah Peterson, leader of the volunteer-run effort.
Over in Gaylord, Michigan, the Northern MI Veterans Coalition (NMVC) also found a way to stretch their stimulus funding by partnering with Walmart! Through the combination of BWF funding, in-kind donations, and additional funds from Walmart, NMVC was able to help 25 veterans living in transitional housing at the Goodwill of Northern Michigan Patriot Place. In August, the coalition delivered 25 50-gallon totes filled with household essentials valued at $200: personal items, pillows, sleeping bags, alarm clocks, packing tape, razors, socks, house fans, lawn chairs, cleaning items, food storage containers, laundry detergent, stamps and more!
Down in Miami, Florida, Mission United Miami-Dade identified that many of the veterans seeking assistance had lost their jobs and were on the brink of homelessness and hunger. They also knew that safe access to food sources was a challenge for veterans at higher COVID-19 risk. The Mission United team thoughtfully leveraged their stimulus funds, delivering produce boxes and supplying supermarket gift cards to ensure 94 veteran and service member households were able to access nutritious food during this crisis.
Our Local Partners in Hattiesburg, MS distributed their stimulus funds to support the work of six local agencies already doing pandemic relief work with veterans in the Pine Belt area. Among other relief efforts, including emergency rental and utility assistance, the Pine Belt Veterans Task Force’s partner organizations provided food for 30 veterans.
In rural Colorado, Veterans of San Luis Valley works closely with homeless veterans in the six counties they serve. During COVID, they collaborated with other local agencies to support a “Veteran in the Park” initiative, outreaching and serving veterans while distributing food and hygiene kits, as well as information about VA services. With the support of their stimulus funding, they were able to reach about 50 veterans, meeting them “where they’re at” with a supportive, personal touch.
In Massachusetts, Clear Path for Veterans New England continued their weekly food distribution program, running local “empowerment centers” to support veterans in need. Since they began in March, they’ve gotten to know local veteran families even better, and have been able to learn their needs and customize food packages for them. They shared this beautiful story about giving back to a veteran who gives so much herself:
“A local veteran family has been coming to the food distribution pickup every two weeks. Their family of seven have been more than grateful for the weekly box. The family is very excited when we are able to add fresh fruit and produce. The family has long supported the foster system and stepped up early this year to help even more children...we always try to find a little something extra to make their day. The family's gratitude is evident in the big smiles and words of thanks each week. She has expressed that without our help the last six months would have been extremely difficult. What the family may not realize is that our team of volunteers look forward to seeing them each week and have an incredible sense of joy in helping them.”