American Legion Auxiliary members across the country continue to demonstrate creative and helpful ways to serve our nation’s veterans, military, and their families. Alley-White Unit 52 in Mountain Home, Ark., started a food pantry at its post home to help make a difference for veterans in the community.
“It’s something that has always been important to me: that veterans don’t go hungry,” said unit member Suzan Kaye. “This is one project that has fallen into place like it was meant to be. This is the sort of thing the American Legion Auxiliary was meant to do.”
Before a pantry at the post home was available, Kaye noticed a spike in veterans visiting a local food bank where she volunteered. Originally, there was a plan to open another food bank at a veterans center in the community, but because of COVID, all projects were put on hold. Kaye knew there was a need for a food pantry in their small community and took the idea to her fellow members, and then the executive board at The American Legion post home. The Legionnaires thought it was a great idea and have been assisting the Auxiliary members since.
“We have about 15-16 volunteers which are half our Legion and half our Auxiliary,” Kaye said. “We have enough volunteers that no one has to volunteer more than once a month unless they choose to. We were very happy to have the Legion help — I’m just very, very happy that I’ve got so much support. We have a great committee, we’ve got great people, and a great community.”
To help with the cost of starting a pantry at the post, Kaye applied for a Veteran Projects Fund grant through the American Legion Auxiliary Foundation. With assistance from the grant, they were able to purchase heavy-duty shelving, large plastic totes, a scale to weigh the donations, and a small file cabinet to maintain records.
“When you find a grant opportunity, go for it — you might get lucky! A huge thank-you to the ALA Foundation for making the grant available. It made all the difference,” said Kaye.
After acquiring the grant, Unit 52 publicized the project through Facebook and email. They had business cards made to hand to veterans in the community, and Kaye also went on a local radio show to spread the word to a larger audience. Their marketing efforts succeeded; they received over 5,000 pounds of food for their pantry.
“Our pantry room looks like a convenient store; we have a little bit of everything,” said Kaye. “We have canned fruits, vegetables, and meats. We actually have everything except for perishable items. We don’t usually keep things that require refrigeration.”
Some other items donated have been diapers, over-the-counter medications, baby items, laundry detergent, dish soap, bleach, snacks, etc. There are also nine donation boxes throughout the Mountain Home community.
The pantry opened its doors earlier this year and is open every Saturday from 9 to 11 a.m. Before opening, the Auxiliary hosted two food drives in February to help stock shelves. The pantry accepted more than 1,000 pounds of food from the drives and then added another 1,000 pounds the first week it was open. Unit 52 consistently has been able to assist about three to four veterans each week.
“We have been completely supported by our community,” Kaye said. “We’ve been blessed. This is a very generous community to start with, but we have just been overwhelmed with the food and support we’ve received.”