With the news of the pandemic on the rise once again and winter quickly approaching, Veterans Northeast Outreach Center continues to keep our doors open and services available for any local Veteran seeking support and assistance. We are proud that we never had to close our doors throughout the COVID 19 pandemic since the first restrictions were put in place in March 2020. We continue to service all Veterans’ needs including housing, financial assistance, and food distribution.
VNEOC has always contributed to reducing food insecurity among our Veterans with our twice-weekly food pantry held at our Service Center in Haverhill. Seeing the numbers of recipients increasing during the pandemic, we focused on efforts outside our local Haverhill population. In December 2019, we partnered with the Accidental Foodbank to bring a wider variety of foods and staples to our veterans. In March, we were given the opportunity to partner with Mass Military Support Foundation, Inc. to distribute the Vital Food Boxes they were so successfully distributing at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. For many Veterans in the Merrimack Valley and North Shore area, the trip to Foxboro was not an option, and we provided them with the ability to access this invaluable program. We also partnered with local food distributors and farms to provide supplemental items such as bread, dairy, eggs, fruit and produce.
Beginning March 27th, on alternating Wednesdays we have been conducting contact free drive through food distributions in Haverhill and Danvers. In October, we added a third site in Manchester by the Sea, and we have recently received a request to bring the distribution to southern NH. Each week, we have been assisting 40-50 elderly Veterans, Veterans with families, and Veterans with health and financial issues, and the recent weeks have only seen the numbers increasing.
Last month, on October 7th, VNEOC distributed the 1,000th box at our Haverhill site. To put that in perspective, each box contains food for two people for two weeks, or 84 servings. In seven months, 84,000 servings of food were distributed to local Veterans and families. As we noted at the time, the 1,000th box was not a celebration, but a sobering look at the growing need in the local community.
We are uniquely positioned to be able to reduce some of the daily stress and hardship of providing a basic need and affect Veterans lives in a positive way and are fortunate to have the opportunity to do so in partnership with the Mass Military Support Foundation.
Recently, we were again offered an opportunity with Mass Military Support Foundation to distribute boxes from the USDA Farmers to Families program. These are 35-pound boxes containing perishable food items including produce, fruit, butter, eggs, a gallon of milk, cheese and other dairy, and 4 ½ pounds of meats. We were challenged with distributing 1,000 boxes per week for 5 weeks. A daunting task, but the first week the boxes were delivered Tuesday morning and the last box was picked up Friday morning. By the fifth week, the truck was empty by Thursday morning – 2 and ½ days. We report this not to marvel at the efficiency, but to point out the local need is even larger than we knew. Of these 1,000 boxes, all were distributed to local Veterans, VSOs, and Veteran agencies with the exception of approximately 300 boxes delivered to a local food pantry. This food pantry reports, according to their surveys, they have at least 110 Veterans coming through their line each week.
To put this in perspective, each box weighs approximately 35 pounds. We distributed 5,040 boxes over the past 5 weeks, or 176,400 pounds (88.2 tons!) of perishable food. Pricing the contents of each box was roughly $58.00, which equals $292,320 of food, over a quarter million dollars of food, to just the local Merrimack Valley Veteran community.
Although the Food Distribution is a productive and effective program, the added benefit of events such as these is that it allows us to reach into the community to Veterans who have never previously come forward to ask for assistance. With our interaction and presence in this capacity, we have been able to connect many Veterans with other services that they may have not known were available, and the resulting cases have been life changing. Whether from a gas card or winter clothing, to being able to connect a Veteran to Healthcare, Disability Benefits, or Housing…the importance of the initial connection cannot be underestimated. The logistics of running the drive through distributions and perishable food distribution are a large undertaking for an agency of our size. We could not possibly be successful without many partners and volunteers to help us in all phases of the operations. We would like to recognize:
- Northern Essex Community College
- North Shore Community College
- Eagle Leasing Company
- Haverhill AMVETS – Post #147
- American Legion – Amaral Bailey Post
- CNA Stores
- Accidental Food Bank
- Fantini Bakery
- Bonnano Farms
- Shaheen Brothers Distributing
The selfless volunteers who dedicated many hours, in all kinds of weather, to ensure the Veterans are served.
The VSO community who picked up and delivered boxes to the Veterans in their towns and communities including Gloucester, Beverly, Salem, Lynn, Danvers, Wilmington, Dracut, Lawrence, Haverhill, Amesbury, Georgetown, No. Andover, Tewksbury, and more.
The support of our local representatives, including Sen. Diana DiZoglio, Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, Rep. Andy Vargas, Rep. James Kelcourse, among others.
Despite our best efforts over the past months, there are still Veterans that are going unserved and unnoticed in our communities. Veterans Northeast Outreach Center is asking for your assistance in:
1). Volunteering to help at our food distribution locations;
2). Donating to our programs to ensure that we can serve these Veterans;
3). Reaching out to Veterans you know that may need support and tell them about VNEOC.
We appreciate YOUR help in continuing to support our efforts to serve the veteran community. We cannot do what we do without your help. Remember, you can support us also by letting your local Representatives and Senators know that you believe our mission is critical so we leave no Veteran behind.
The VNEOC Outreach Team