Utica, New York was once a booming city that prospered from manufacturing and agriculture. Today, like many areas of the country, Utica suffers from an unemployment rate that is close to 10% with nearly 12,000 local people looking for jobs. For many Veterans in this hard-hit area, putting food on the table is much more difficult than it once was.
A U.S. Army Veteran, Joe, served his country for nearly twenty years and is currently unemployed. As he looks for work, Joe struggles to bring food home to his family. Following a tip from a friend, four months ago Joe walked into the Feed Our Vets Food Pantry in downtown Utica and found the help he needed.
“At times you need that little extra help from month to month so you can just get by with your family. For someone like myself – I still have a sixteen year old at home – things have definitely been tough in today’s economy. As for the Feed Our Vets Food Pantry, it is definitely the number one factor for me and my family in staying above water.”
He is not alone in his praise for Feed Our Vets. Eddie, a Vietnam-era Veteran said, “If you are a Veteran, they will take care of you, they will do anything to help. It is sad that we have to come down here, but this is a great program that really makes a difference for us.” It was the first time that Army Veteran Syrus, who suffers from chronic lung problems, has come to a Feed Our Vets pantry. “I was surprised. They kept wanting me to take more, and it is the same food that I am eating at home. Thankfully, now I won’t have to rely on my daughter to come and bring me food.”
The Feed Our Vets Food Pantry fills a critical need in the community and the demand for its services are growing as more and more Veterans return home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
As Joe said, “The sad part is that a lot of Veterans come back and they don’t like to admit that they need some help.”
Because Feed Our Vets is staffed by fellow Veterans, the organization finds itself in a unique position to reach out to Veterans in need. Despite problems of their own, nearly all of the Veterans that come to the Feed Our Vets Food Pantry share a common desire to help their fellow Veterans.
“Veterans should not be kicked under the table and forgotten,” said Joe. “They should all have this opportunity for help. They served for us, for our freedom, and it’s our turn to give back to them for the sacrifices they made. Some Veterans need that extra help and Feed Our Vets is a great resource. I am not just speaking for myself. I am speaking for the Veterans that came before me and those that will come after.”
Rich Synek – A Postmaster with a Critical Mission
Rich Synek is the Postmaster in the small upstate New York town of Vernon Center and he has a lofty goal – help feed the estimated three million hungry Veterans in the United States. His journey to help Veterans in need began four years ago when one of his customers, a World War II Veteran, came to the post-office to buy a single stamp. It was all he could afford. After some prodding from the Postmaster, he admitted that he and his wife would endure between one and five days each month with very little to eat. Occasionally the couple would run out of food completely.
“His story broke my heart,” said Rich, who is himself a U.S. Navy Veteran, “I called my wife Michelle, who also works at the Post Office, and that night we bought a bunch of food and I will always remember the look on his face when we delivered it to his house.”
That was the beginning of Feed Our Vets – an innovative non-profit organization and food pantry that helps Veterans and their family members in need.
“It was all word-of-mouth at first. More and more Veterans were coming into the post office and asking us for food. We gave out food boxes at first, then we started to give out gift certificates from a local grocery store, but we were simply overwhelmed with requests.”
Rich began to do local television, radio, and newspaper interviews and the organization and its outreach efforts grew. Today, the Feed Our Vets Food Pantry in Utica, New York gives out over two thousand pounds of food per month to hungry Veterans. Learning from trial and error, Feed Our Vets has developed a unique approach to helping Veterans and their families. As Rich explains, “Our philosophy at Feed Our Vets is to allow Veterans to ‘shop’ for themselves by selecting the food they want. Giving out food boxes can be a waste of resources because not everyone likes the same food.”
By allowing Veterans to select the food they want, the pantry operates much like a grocery store, except that instead of paying for the food they select, the Veteran needs only to have it weighed on the way out. Feed Our Vets also provides Veterans with toiletries and other necessities that are not available with food stamps. The Feed Our Vets approach is unique among food pantries and the fact that Feed Our Vets is staffed by fellow Veterans has allowed the organization to provide indispensible support for many Veterans in need.
“We really care about our Veterans. We want to hear their stories and try to help them as much as we can. We see Veterans all the way from World War II to the men and women getting home today from Iraq and Afghanistan. There are Veterans in need in every community in this country. We know that Veterans can suffer from a number of problems including unemployment, PTSD, and physical disabilities, but at Feed Our Vets, we want to help relieve that one most-painful burden of all, the burden of being hungry.”
- Rich Synek, Founder and Executive Director, Feed our Vets
Veteran Hunger and Homeless Initiatives around the Country
Feed Our Vets is a group dedicated to monitoring the strategies and activities of organizations with its shared goal of helping hungry and homeless Veterans across the country. Feed Our Vets understands that assisting the soldiers who protect America’s freedoms is a nationwide effort, and it applauds the efforts of groups who are committed to helping Veterans overcome the challenges of adjusting to civilian life, reuniting them with friends and family and ensuring that their medical and employment needs are met.
A New Homeless Veteran Transition Program in Fort Worth
Partnering with Mental Health Department of Tarrant County and Veterans Administration, Liberty House in Ft. Worth, Texas, is ready to accept homeless Veterans in a new transition program. The effort is part of Mayor Mike Moncrief’s 10-year plan to end homelessness, and Liberty House’s goal is to reconnect former soldiers with their families and their communities. Between 55 and 75 Veterans will be served each year, and the program will also provide support services that include recovery and employment help.
Rehabilitation Program in Philadelphia
The Perimeter, a new program at the Philadelphia Veterans Multi-Service Educational Center, is a rehabilitation and training program with the goal of Veterans helping veterans. The project will provide a hot breakfast and lunch to former soldiers, as well as laundry facilities, hygiene and general outreach. Also, a representative from the regional VA office will regularly be at the Center to give assistant on Veterans claims, benefits and legal help.
Agriculture Training in Michigan
The Vets to Ag program at Michigan State University, which is funded by No Worker Left Behind, is seeking to re-train Veterans for new careers in agriculture. The project launched in September of 2009, and is currently in its second session. One group of Veterans spent six weeks at MSU’s Kellogg Biological Station near Kalamazoo, and took classes led by the school’s professors. Coursework includes collegiate-level training in pesticides, soil science and Spanish.
Gainesville Grand Opening, Full Service Homeless Center for Vets
The HONOR Center, a full-service homeless center for Veterans had its grand opening in Gainesville, Florida, and among its host of services, will offer counseling, job skills training and therapy. The program will also include dormitory-style living for female homeless Veterans called The Residence. Veterans will have up to six months of access to services, buffet dining and numerous therapeutic activities.
Denver Program Sees Veterans Homeless Double
Denver’s Homeless Veteran Reintegration Project is in its seventh year of operation, and has seen the number of Veterans seeking help double since the recent economic collapse. The program provides nearly everything, from bus tokens to work boots and clothing. Also offered are resume help, training classes and a vast network of services. The program has been a great success, and has been a recipient of the American Legion Department of Colorado’s Homeless Veteran Outreach Award.
Veteran Housing Program in Atlantic City
A new project by Community Quest Inc. seeks to turn an entire apartment complex in Atlantic City into 100% Veteran-occupied housing. Community Quest is also beginning construction on a similar conversion program in nearby Tuckerton. Both locations will have on-site staff, case management services and employment-related counseling.
All-Veteran residences in New York
The Jericho Project’s Veteran’s Initiative is constructing two new all-Veteran residences in New York, the first expansion project of its type in 16 years. Also, this project includes an expansion of the Supportive Apartment Program to include 40 units. The efforts also call for continued services for Veterans based on prior Jericho projects.
Therapy Group for Veterans in Pennsylvania
A new program called the Scratch Team aims to help keep Veterans off drugs and the dangerous path of addiction in Pennsylvania. The group, which itself is comprised of five ex-drug addict Veterans, leads a twice-monthly therapy group for returning soldiers at City Light Ministries. One of the group’s founders, who has been drug-free for 10 years, works at a nearby Veteran Affairs Medical Center, and is able to offer additional guidance, rehabilitation and counseling in their recoveries.
Veteran Stand Down in Georgia
In Georgia, the Columbus Convention and Trade Center will host Operation Stand Down, a program targeting homeless Veterans. The program is designed to give help on benefits and pension, housing, voter registration and Social Security. Certain low income and homeless Veterans can receive special legal and housing support, in addition to physical exams and screenings. Also available will be hot meals, haircuts, comfort items and clothing. Veterans can also schedule appointments with a variety of agencies for follow-up assistance.