This past weekend the nation observed Veterans Day – a day to celebrate the men and women who bravely served and protected our country. The Greater Chicago Food Depository’s impact in the community extends to veterans who are struggling. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 18,000 veterans in Cook County are living below the poverty level. The U.S. Conference of Mayors reports 10 percent of people homeless in Chicago are veterans.
Just last week, Food Depository staff, volunteers and AmeriCorps members met hundreds of veterans facing food insecurity in Cook County at the 2012 Veteran Standdown event hosted by the Chicago Veterans Economic Development Council. The Chicago-area Vet Centers, VA Medical Centers and more than 30 public and private, federal/state and city agencies lead the Standdown effort.
“As I drove past the armory looking for parking, I was astounded to see the number of homeless veterans waiting to be let inside. Many had been waiting for over an hour in the cold,” said Elizabeth Berkeley, one of the Food Depository’s AmeriCorps members.
More than 850 veterans arrived at the Humboldt Park Armory on Thursday, where they received winter coats and clothing, health screenings, hair cuts and food. While Food Depository volunteers handed out bags of nonperishable food items and fresh fruit to every veteran, SNAP Outreach coordinators and AmeriCorps members were providing information and assistance for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly Food Stamps).
“There was a constant flow of people through the line for food and clothing from 8 in the morning until mid afternoon and our team had the opportunity to talk with most of them,” said AmeriCorps member Sara Szwankowski. “We were able to discuss if they were interested in the SNAP program or if they were already receiving SNAP benefits. Many of the attendees had no idea they were eligible.”
By the end of the day, 19 veterans completed applications for SNAP benefits with the help of the SNAP Outreach team.
“It was very inspiring to interact with people that are remaining positive and thankful while going through hardships,” said Michelle Cates, another Food Depository AmeriCorps member. “Having the opportunity to be of service to those who have sacrificed and served this country is one of the many reasons why I am proud to be an AmeriCorps member working with the Food Depository.”