Veteran Timothy Peck never thought he’d have trouble feeding himself.
But after he was laid off from a 27-year telecommunications job in 2008, he spent a period of time without a home.
“I was once a single man making $50,000 a year,” Peck said. “Now, I’m using food banks.”
It’s a story many military veterans share, and that’s where Feed Our Vets comes in.
Every Wednesday from 4 to 6:30 p.m., veterans can stop by Feed Our Vets pantry at 205 Genesee St. to grab a week’s worth of food. The items — from fresh vegetables and bread, to canned soup, to Frosted Flakes — have posted limits, but they’re flexible.
“We try to set the pantry up so that they have a choice, like it’s going shopping,” veteran and Board of Directors member Stephen Amaral said. “We want them to have a little bit of dignity.”
In 2013, the pantry assisted 1,157 veterans. So far this year, that number is about 800.
Jared Gawlas, who served in the military from 1999 to 2007, started making trips to Feed Our Vets last winter. Although he’s employed at Fraternal Composite Service and does freelance photography, he couldn’t make ends meet on his own.
“They always try to say, ‘take more,’” he said. “I just want to cover the basics.”
Peck, who’s been using Feed Our Vets about once a month since 2009, said the food supplements what he’s able to buy with SNAP benefits and temporary work through Kelly Services. Almost 70,000 veterans were estimated to have received SNAP benefits in New York at some point between 2009 and 2011.
The organization, which became a nonprofit in 2009, doesn’t ask veterans about their incomes or personal lives, though.
“Feed Our Vets looks at the need of veteran hunger, not the cause,” said Richard Synek, Feed Our Vets founder and executive director. “Most of these people are just working poor.”
The nonprofit doesn’t receive any substantial grants. Instead, it uses a combination of fundraising programs — such as selling water bottles, or collecting and recycling old cars, scraps and electronics — and donations. A co-op in Turin donates fresh vegetables. A local bakery gives loaves of bread. Churches, government buildings and more run food drives for the pantry.
“We work with other people like us,” Amaral said.
Synek said the camaraderie at Feed Our Vets — where other organizers are veterans, too — makes veterans choose it over other food banks.
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