Feed Our Vets Eats Away at U.S. Veteran Hunger Problem

Looking for a way to volunteer her time to an organization serving U.S. veterans, Selena Dewey found it in an unlikely source.

“I had a classic vehicle that needed some work and I found a local shop that was able to do that,” she said. “The shop owner gave me a tour of the place, where he had an old, gray Humvee they were restoring for an organization called Feed Our Vets.

“I was not familiar with the organization, but I knew I wanted to start volunteering for a veterans organization after my late husband served for 30 years in the U.S. Air Force.”

Feed Our Vets, established by U.S. Navy veteran Rich Synek, turned out to be the perfect fit. So much so that Selena is now President of the organization’s Board of Directors.

Chance Encounter Plants the Seed

Rich and his wife, Michele, started to gain an awareness of the issue of veteran hunger – as well as a passion to do something about it – in 2005.

Rich was serving as a postmaster in Vernon Center, New York when a World War II veteran entered the post office and purchased one stamp.

When Rich asked him if he wanted to buy a book of stamps instead, the man broke down and said he and his wife had enough money to eat properly for only two weeks each month. Because it was near the end of the month, they had nothing left.

Rich’s heart went out to the fellow vet. He and Michele promptly purchased groceries and delivered them to the couple’s home.

Organization Launches in 2009

“Almost three years of Michele and I feeding vets locally started with that one,” Rich said.

“It kept going for several months, and then word got out and we had more vets coming to my post office.

“Then local newspapers started reporting that a postmaster was feeding vets. It continued to grow to the point where we were keeping pallets of food in our garage.”

Rich and Michele established the first Feed Our Vets pantry in 2009 and have continued to feed vets ever since.

Service and Sacrifice Deserve Notice

Is hunger among veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces really that serious of a problem? The statistics don’t lie.

More than 130,000 vets are homeless every night. One in three homeless people is a U.S. military veteran. Nearly 4 million vets and their families don’t have enough to eat.

Many vets return from their service with no job. Far too many suffer from injuries, both physical and mental. Some end up jobless, homeless and hungry.

“Our nation’s military vets have served and sacrificed for our freedom,” Rich said. “We believe it is our duty to give back to these men and women who have given so much for our country.”

27,500 Vets Fed… and Counting

Feed Our Vets is a 501c3 nonprofit organization with a mission of helping U.S. veterans whose circumstances have left them on the battlefield of hunger. As well as their spouses and children.

And to involve the public in fighting veteran hunger through:

  • Community food pantries that provide regular, free food to veterans and their families
  • Distribution of related goods and services
  • Public education and outreach.

Since 2009, Feed Our Vets has provided free food assistance to more than 27,500 veterans and their family members in 39 states and counting. And helped another 7,500 vets with non-food assistance, including housing.

They’ve distributed nearly 2 million pounds of food and more than $150,000 in gift cards for stores such as WalMart.

Adding the Personal Touch

“We don’t just hand out food in an impersonal manner,” Rich said. “When we have 

a new vet, we immediately ask what branch they were in.

“Our volunteers have a variety of military experience. We love to talk to the vets. There are some in their 90s and some active-duty members.

“They’re all human beings regardless of their circumstances. We offer a hand up, not a handout.”

“Our vets feel very comfortable coming here,” Selena said. “They feel safe. They thank us for feeding them, and we always thank them for their service.”

‘It’s Good to Give Back’

The Feed Our Vets pantry in New York Mills, New York holds distributions on Wednesdays from 3 to 6 p.m. And on the third Saturday of each month from 8 to 11 a.m.

“We’re all there every Wednesday and one Saturday a month,” Selena said.

Selena’s husband, Wade, received the Air Medal, is buried at Arlington National Cemetery and is one of only 150 U.S. military pilots who racked up 3,600 hours in an F-16.

“I love doing what I do for Feed Our Vets,” she added. “It’s good to give back.”

Pandemic Can’t Stop the Mission

Selena said the food pantries at New York Mills, Watertown, New York, and Ashtabula, Ohio are really more like grocery stores.

“Normally, we give the veterans a cart for their meat, dairy, eggs and canned goods choices,” she said. “It’s usually about a week’s worth of food, but some get enough for a family, depending on their circumstances.”

Logistics changed once COVID-19 struck. Volunteers now pack the bags with food and distribution occurs outdoors. Because some of the volunteers are elderly and therefore high-risk, they’ve had to step away temporarily.

“For the first couple of months we took a 67 percent decrease in donations,” Rich said. “Which is rough because we have to pay rent on our facilities. It hurt, but it’s slowly getting better.

Volunteers Step Up

“And we had an increase in need because of veterans losing jobs. So, we did a lot of media interviews and posted a lot on social media to let more people know about hungry vets.

“It’s taken a lot more time and effort from our volunteers. They go in before we open and fill hundreds of bags and load up seven pallets of different food groups. We set up portable tents outdoors and load up cars directly from the warehouse.”

“We take all the precautions,” Selena added. “Gloves, facemasks, Plexiglass and other safety precautions are all in place. The vets know they have to wear masks.”

Prior to the virus, Feed Our Vets would also go mobile, visiting the Syracuse vet center once a month. Now that’s on hold.

Donations Always Welcome

Food items in need for the vets include are cereal, pasta, pasta sauce, canned fruit and tuna.

As well as peanut butter, jelly, boxed potatoes, canned pasta and canned ravioli. And ramen, noodles, soup, Rice-A-Roni, baked beans, pancake mix and syrup. Plus gift cards for grocery stores.

Most of the food is donated by local food manufacturers and grocery stores. Veterans in need of food assistance can fill out an online form to request help.

The simplest and most effective way for the average person to donate is financially on the www.FeedOurVets.org website. That way Rich, Michele, Selena and other volunteers can purchase items most in need at any given time.

4Patriots recently donated 60 of our 72-Hour Survival Food Kits to Feed Our Vets. This equates to 960 servings, which matches the number of people who have subscribed to our text club using the keyword FOOD4VETS.  Feel free to sign up at https://4.patriots.com/pages/food4vets-subscribe-page for texts and to make an impact.

No Government Funding

“One hundred percent of our funds come from private donors,” said Rich, who is a member of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Marine Corps League and American Veterans for Equal Rights.

As well as a member of the National League of Postmasters and National Association of Postmasters of The United States. He’s also a Master Mason.

Rich served in the U.S. Navy from 1985 to 1988, working mainly in naval intelligence. He was stationed aboard the USS Peterson, and was involved in the 1986 bombing of Libya and intelligence gathering in Central America and the USSR.

“We have no local, state or government funding,” he said “Ninety-three percent of every dollar we receive goes directly to veterans due to how little overhead we have.”

Honorary Board Members

Honorary board members at Feed Our Vets include film actor and director Joe Mantegna and Vietnam War veteran, Marine Corps member and The Wonder Years cast member Dan Lauria.

Plus award-winning playwright Victor Bumbalo and stage actor and playwright Ray Abruzzo. As well as stage director and actor Richard Zavaglia. 

I’d encourage you to check out the Feed Our Vets website to learn more about this worthy organization. 

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