Black Veterans Turn to Community Volunteering to Help Other Veterans in Need

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The Food Bank for New York City distributes food and other items to residents of the Bronx during the Food Bank Food Distribution for New York City Veterans at the James J. Peters Medical Center in the Bronx on November 3, 2021 in the Bronx, New York. (Photo by Michael Loccisano / Getty Images for The New York Food Bank)

When Lashena Boyer left the Navy in 2011, his commitment to service has not ended. The former sailor is volunteering for Black Vets for Social Justice (BVSJ), a New York City-based nonprofit service organization that helps veterans find support for everything from employment and education benefits to medical and housing services.

Of the country’s more than 18 million military veterans, just over two million are black. As the country celebrates the country’s veterans, food insecurity among one of the country’s most vulnerable groups, African American veterans, has become one of many issues disproportionately affecting minorities during the pandemic.

In New York City, 3 in 10 Veterans depend on pantries and soup kitchens.

Food distribution to veterans
The Food Bank for New York City distributes food and other items to residents of the Bronx during the Food Bank Food Distribution for New York City Veterans at the James J. Peters Medical Center in the Bronx on November 3, 2021 in the Bronx, New York. (Photo by Michael Loccisano / Getty Images for The New York Food Bank)

Boyer is one of dozens of volunteers who travel to a Brooklyn warehouse every Wednesday to pack free meal kits donated by HelloFresh.

In 2004, she was serving aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, a civilian aircraft carrier providing assistance to tsunami refugees in Indonesia. As she sorts fresh vegetables and puts pasta and meat in paper bags, Boyer is still seen helping those in need.

“A disaster is a disaster,” said Boyer leGrio. “A pandemic, be it a tsunami, a tornado, be it September 11, is a disaster. “

The pilot program, involving BVSJ and its partnership between New York State and the New York City Department of Veteran Services, includes the packaging and delivery of fresh meals to local food banks and community organizations in the districts.

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According to Jeremy Butler, CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, black people have weathered the worst of the pandemic, and black veterans find themselves fighting multiple battles on different fronts long after their military service. I

In 2021, Butler said more than half of the organization’s black veterans had applied for financial assistance from the IAVA.

“African American vets are received in medical settings with greater disbelief of symptoms,” Butler said leGrio. Often times, black veterans are underrated on disability claims, treated with fewer options, and struggle to obtain mental health services, GI Bill education benefits, and VA guaranteed home loans. ”

The combination creates a so-called domino effect which, according to Butler, leads to greater job loss, housing vulnerability and food insecurity.

Food Bank For New York City employees deliver food and other essentials to healthcare workers on April 14, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano / Getty Images for The New York Food Bank)

Before the pandemic, Wendy mcclinton, president of Black Veterans of Social Justice, said the organization’s volunteers prepare 100 bags of canned food every two weeks. Since the pandemic, for more than a year, they have been packaging and delivering 4,000 fresh meals distributed to approximately 2,000 veterans and their families each week.

“We are seeing the same people,” McClinton said. “Sometimes we [see] New faces. “

George wolfe served in the Marine Corps. He worked as an electronics technician shortly after leaving the military. A back injury forced him to quit his job, and soon Wolfe found himself without a stable income or housing. After serving in the Philippines and parts of Europe, he never imagined he would one day find himself living on the streets of New York.

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“It is essential,” said Wolfe leGrio, while he was selecting a few boxed lunches in a temporary accommodation center. “Without it, we wouldn’t be able to eat a healthy meal. “

As part of its social impact initiative, HelloFresh has donated millions of fresh meals to local governments, food banks and food rescue organizations across the country. In September, the company announced that it had donated 500,000 pounds of food, bringing its total donation to more than five million.

The meal kits are equipped with a balanced meal, including protein, grains, starch, fruits and vegetables. In addition, each kit contains two meals. Veterans choose the number of kits they need based on their family size.

After a few hours in the warehouse, Lashena Boyer packed and loaded her last meal onto a delivery cart.

“We have veterans who came out and sacrificed their lives,” Boyer said. “So if I could go out and help another vet to eat, then I would. “

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