“Thank you for your service, Corporal.”
Glenn O’Shea makes a point of greeting the veterans coming to the community meal at Grace Episcopal Church by their rank.
“It’s a matter of respect,” he explains. “A matter of gratitude.”
Last spring, O’Shea and other representatives of Second Harvest partner network agencies were gathered together at North Lexington Baptist Church for a Member Agency Council meeting, drinking coffee and discussing the work they each do in their pantries, community meals, and other feeding programs in Davidson County. In Davidson County, over 38% of residents are low income, and many, many are food insecure.
Everyone who comes to a food pantry, shelter or community meal has an important story. Here in Davidson County, the story is increasingly one of low wages, piecing together multiple jobs, and part-time employment. In fact, 52% of the households coming to Second Harvest network programs in Davidson County have at least one employed adult. The wages just aren’t adding up.
Every Sunday, O’Shea and volunteers from eight other area churches prepare and serve a lunch to about 85 people at Grace Episcopal Church. O’Shea also volunteers at Pastor’s Pantry across town (another Second Harvest’s network partner)– Glenn was the 2015 recipient of Second Harvest’s Exemplary Partner Agency Volunteer Award for all this incredible work. Regular clients of the lunch program and food pantry come from all walks of life — they are both young and old; some have families, some live alone.
But for O’Shea it is the veterans’ stories that stand out. And he is not alone.
At another Member Agency Council in Wilkes County a few weeks later, volunteers from Antioch Baptist Church, who are veterans themselves, told their peers they had been noticing the number of veterans coming to their pantry. “Many of them are getting older and can’t work anymore… but they are being left to fend for themselves with no money.”
While the U.S. Department of Defense does not directly track hunger among military families or veterans, the Feeding America network, of which Second Harvest is a part, reports that a growing number of current military and veteran families are seeking food assistance.
The Feeding America network serves 46 million food-insecure people annually – including 12 million children and 7 million seniors. Twenty percent of the households served have a member who is a veteran or has served in the U.S. military.
Our own Federal Nutrition Outreach Program often encounters veterans who need to apply for SNAP (formerly known as “food stamps”). Some of them are retired and living on fixed incomes, others are younger and struggling to find full time employment or jobs that provide family-supporting wages. In North Carolina, 56,000 veterans out of 666,000 (or 8%) receive SNAP benefits to help lift them out of poverty.
Nationally, an estimated 23,000 active-duty military households receive SNAP food stamps benefits, as do 1.5 million veterans. Beyond veterans, this also represents their families: there are a lot of kids at risk if their parents cannot put food on the table on their military pay or veteran benefits.
Veterans and members of the military help us in our nation’s time of need– it is their job. It’s critical, then, that we help them in theirs– it is our job. They fought for our freedom. By providing them with food to feed their families, we are fighting for their future.
Learn more about Second Harvest Food Bank, our 18-county partner network, at secondharvestnwnc.org