• Tamarah Webb

Vets fighting hunger in America

Photo via feedourvets.org

There is a new struggling society that many Americans don’t know about. This society not only must battle issues of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the amputation of limbs, but this society is fighting the demon of hunger. An agency known as Feed Our Vets recognizes the existence of military veterans and their fight with hunger. Feed Our Vets works as a food pantry that also assists the families of veterans and national hunger problems in the United States. 

Food distribution to vets and their families — struggling to make ends meet — is the prime focus of Feed Our Vets. This issue is also being recognized by the Greater Chicago Food Depository, and on a larger scale, through corporations such as Feeding America

According to Bill Morgan — department director of the Feed Our Vets agency based in New York — the problem of men and women returning home from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, to retire, but then having to fight on the battlefield of hunger. The struggles of our U.S. military veterans dealing with hunger is under the radar; “even though vets make up 30 percent of homeless and hungry in the United States, and these rates are continuing to grow,” said Morgan.

Veterans go through a significant adjustment period after fighting overseas then reconnecting with their families. Many vets have a hard time finding work, and therefore supporting their families. “Many times, vets have enough for the first 2-3 weeks of the month; they pay bills and don’t have money for the last weeks of the month,” said Morgan.

Every night, nearly 1,000 soldiers, sailors, marines, and seamen become new U.S. veterans. More than 130,000 vets are hungry and homeless any given night and nearly 1.5 million are at risk of becoming homeless and going hungry, according to Feed Our Vets website.

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) provides patient care and federal benefits to veterans and their families. Currently, VA offices are focused on veteran hunger problems and have developed plans to dramatically decrease hunger by 2015.

Also focusing on decreasing hunger is Amy Satoh — manager of social policy research analysis at Feeding America headquarters. Satoh said Feeding America is keeping track of veteran statuses and conditions concerning hunger that exists. “We are asking about veteran status and current military status because that was something our food banks were reporting to us,” said Satoh, “if you look at the pay scale for military families, it’s generally not very good, they are moving every two years and they don’t have a family network they can go to.”

According to Satoh, Feeding America doesn’t give aid to specific hunger groups because it is an organization that doesn’t discriminate. 

Therefore Feed Our Vets isn’t offered direct aid from Feeding America.

Still, Satoh explained, Feeding America’s method of distribution doesn’t exclude any military veterans and their families who come in need of food.

The Greater Chicago Food Depository — member food bank of Feeding America and distribution center of Cook County Chicago — has also increased response to issues of veteran hunger, said Jim Conwell — Communications Manager at the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

According to Conwell, joining forces with Chicago-area veteran centers — Hines Edward Jr. VA Hospital and Jesse Brown VA Medical Center —the Greater Chicago Food Depository has participated in programs such as Veterans Stand Down — an event focused on supporting hundreds of homeless and hungry vets in the Chicago-area.

“We aren’t just looking to keep up with the need, we are looking to end hunger,” said Conwell.

According to the VA website, Veteran Stand Down programs provide resources and services — such as meals, medical assistance, dental assistance, and women’s services — to homeless vets in Chicago.

The self-proclaimed primary goal of the Food Depository is to, “ensure adequate supply, deliver and access to healthy food options for all people in need.”

To understand how food gets to Americans in need, Ross Fraser — Feeding America’s director of media relations — said Feeding America supplies food to a network of 200 food bank offices throughout the United States — this including the Greater Chicago Food Depository — and is self-described as the “largest domestic hunger-relief charity in the nation.

The distribution of food from donors to 37 million hungry Americans is an extensive process that takes careful planning and management. “All we care about is getting food to hungry people,” said Fraser, and Feeding America’s growth in donations from 300 million-800 million pounds of produce since 2004 shows it. 

The traditional way of distributing food is through a type of agency known as a food pantry.

Usually located in church basements, these agencies require hungry Americans to commute in order to receive assistance; this is difficult when approximately 40 percent of these Americans don’t have a vehicle, Fraser said.

Feed Our Vets pantries are run by volunteers who supply food that has been donated from vendors and grocers with unsalable goods. According to Morgan, Feed Our Vets also uses monetary contributions to purchase goods in bulk for distribution.

The support of Wal-Mart has been a huge operation for Feeding America representatives, said Fraser. Wal-Mart just reached its billion-pound mark of donated goods to Feeding America. The superstore not only takes goods off its store shelves but also has aired PSAs to spread awareness of the Feeding America organization. Fox Sports just took Feeding America on as a cause, and will also begin running PSAs for the organization.