As director of the service center and development at Veterans Northeast Outreach Center (VNEOC), John Ford can often be found in the community, a role that often leads to unexpected opportunities to better serve veterans.

Opportunities sometimes come to Ford, who said Dee O’Neil, co-founder of 411 Cares with Michael Malvers, came into VNEOC’s service center in Haverhill this past spring looking for ways to help.

“We started talking, and it became clear she could help us with an immediate need for food for some of the veterans we serve,” he explained. “She started connecting us with all kinds of different resources and the relationship has blossomed since then.”

To help VNEOC address food insecurity issues with some of its veterans, O’Neil said she contacted Tufts Health Plan with whom she had recently formed a relationship.

“After learning about VNEOC’s need for food, I reached out to Tufts Health Plan and Daphnee Alva, as she works closely with the local community,” said O’Neill. “Daphnee and I had already collaborated to help other local agencies. Given their reach in the community, I thought they could be a great resource for VNEOC as well.”

That phone call, said Ford, has resulted in thousands of lunch for veterans. The food has been provided by We Care Charity.

“Dee, Daphnee and We Care Charity helped us during one of our most difficult times,” explained Ford, who said the pandemic caused numerous business closures that directly affected many of their veterans.

“It’s not as if our people were looking for a hand-out, because they weren’t,” he added. “What our veterans needed was help at a time when all of us were reeling due to COVID. I can’t thank 411 Cares enough for connecting us with Tufts Health Plan and We Care Charity.”

Noting many people see them as “just a health plan,” Alva said Tufts Health Plan is “so much more than that.”

“We are in the community and invested in the betterment of the people,” she said.

Alva is a member of Tufts Health Plan’s Senior Care Options team, working with Massachusetts residents over 65 who are eligible for both Medicare and MassHealth. In addition to collaborating with VNEOC, Alva said other recent initiatives include feeding more than 600 seniors across Massachusetts.

“We are involved in a range of activities across the state to help local residents in need,” she said.

Examples include creating care packages that include a mask and hand sanitizer, donating face masks and shields to local nursing homes for their staff and providing gift cards to area grocery stores.

“Tufts Health Plan’s mission is to improve the health and wellness of the diverse communities we serve,” said Alva. “We are doing all we can to meet the community where they are and help them during this crisis.”

In reflecting on the emerging relationships among VNEOC, 411 Cares, Tufts Health Plan and We Care Charity Ford said that “one thing is clear.”

“Collaborations like this are essential if we are going to meet the needs of our communities,” he said. “None of us can work in silos, and I think the pandemic has reinforced the importance that we all work together. I am very thankful for organizations that are stepping up during these difficult times.”

Serving Essex, Middlesex and Barnstable Counties (MA) and Rockingham and Hillsborough Counties (NH), VNEOC provides basic food and housing, advocacy as an Accredited VSO, counseling, peer support, case management, employment and education to veterans and their families.