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July/August 2020

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Providing Food Support During the Pandemic

Clinton Township, Michigan, Chapter 154 maintains a food pantry, as well as other services, in its Veterans Support Center. Initially just a few food items stored under the stairway of a member’s home, the food pantry now features approximately 1,200 square feet of storage space for canned and dry goods and a walk-in refrigerator and freezer for cold-item and meat storage. The food pantry is inspected and certified for safe food handling by the Macomb County Food Bank, as well as by one of its providers, Forgotten Harvest. In recent years the chapter has helped some 840 veteran families a year keep food on the table.

Food Pantry co-chair Keith Edwards delivers groceries.

The coronavirus outbreak has posed unique challenges to our operation. On March 11, Chapter 154’s Executive Committee and Board of Directors made the decision to start tightening up some procedures for people visiting the Veterans Support Center. At first, it was just stay home if you feel sick, wash your hands, and cover your coughs and sneezes. As the pandemic developed, we further limited operations. The building was closed to visitors, including chapter members and associates. Led by Food Pantry Committee Co-Chairs Gil Claunch and Keith Edwards, only mission-essential staff were allowed in the center. That included a person at the front desk answering the phone, one processing pantry clients, and five pantry volunteers to stock and distribute food.

We also changed our operating hours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday to 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Pantry client procedures were changed to provide for no-contact service. The veteran or family in need approaches the front window, calls the desk, shows identification, answers a few questions, and is instructed to drive to the pick-up area at the side of the building but to stay in the car. The food then is brought out and loaded into the vehicle’s trunk. The process has worked well and we are able to minimize exposure to volunteers and to the families.

Chapter 154 member John Talarico safely loads groceries in the back of a van.

In a normal March, we serve approximately 60 families. This March we served 89. Veteran families are in need, and we are meeting that need to the very best of our ability. Our donations have increased as we receive excess food from restaurant suppliers and restaurants. Our regular suppliers have kept up their deliveries. Our severely reduced number of volunteers, limited hours, and procedural changes are working to meet the increased need of veteran families while keeping everyone as safe as possible during this time of crisis.

We are very proud of the members and associates of Chapter 154. It is in times of stress and crisis that the real essence of a group becomes apparent. The members and associates of this chapter are showing their courage and determination. Together, we are minimizing exposure to the virus while meeting the needs of food-insecure veterans.

We look forward to the pandemic being over so we can gather again with our brothers and sisters.

Tom Puruleski is second vice president of Chapter 154.





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