After their local U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center’s volunteer food pantry closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, The American Legion Family of Post 1038 in Valhalla, N.Y., opened an off-site food pantry at their post home for veterans in need — but they did not stop there.
“We did get a fair response of veterans in need that came by for their food needs, but we thought we could do better. So we developed the concept of ‘if they can’t come to us, we are going to bring it to them somehow, some way,’” said Post 1038 Legion Commander John Creskey.
To expand their efforts, Post 1038 Legion Family members began providing welcome home bags to a local veteran-support organization called My Brother Vinny. My Brother Vinny is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit volunteer organization that helps veterans transition from a Veteran Affairs medical center or from a homeless shelter into permanent housing by the VA or other veteran service agency. They provide furniture and housewares to formerly homeless veterans throughout the Hudson Valley region, New York City, and northern New Jersey area. The founder of My Brother Vinny, Paula Miritello, said that she wished for food to be delivered along with the furnishings — and that’s when Post 1038 members started the welcome home program.
“To know that there is a veteran who doesn’t have food is just unacceptable,” said Auxiliary Unit 1038 President Emmy Creskey. “So, if we, in some little way, can help, we will, and we feel like we’re definitely doing it in Service Not Self — we are following the mission of our Auxiliary and doing good work.”
The entire American Legion Family of Adolph Pfister Unit 1038 participates in the welcome home program to show veterans in the community their appreciation and support while letting them know they are not alone.
“The team that works on this — we are filled with heart and soul — and I think together, it makes a really strong impact,” said Emma Creskey.
A variety of resources is used to purchase and fill the bags. Funding from Unit 1038 budget along with donations from members is a big portion of the donated goods. The community of Valhalla and town of Mt. Pleasant donate items for the welcome home bags, and the VA Montrose Food Pantry also contribute resources. Unit 1038 asks for non-perishable food items like rice, pasta, instant mashed potatoes, beans, vegetables, applesauce, cereal, oatmeal, peanut butter, jelly, tuna, soup, juice, tomato sauce, etc.
“We have donated about 900 bags currently,” said John Creskey. “That’s 900 veterans that were placed from programs from the VA that needed assistance, and it just shows the amount of need that’s out there and the resources that are necessary to support veterans in need.”
The welcome home bags are durable grocery totes that can be used for shopping and on public transportation. The bag includes a letter from American Legion Post 1038 Commander John Creskey, introducing The American Legion to them and encouraging them to look for a post near their new home. It also contains an Auxiliary Unit 1038 letter thanking them for their service and providing information about food pantries located in their area. Along with their food items and letters, Unit 1038 encloses eight simple recipes that the veterans can use with the food items included in their welcome home bag. The Legion Family of Post 1038 advertises their needs on social media and that has made the program bloom exponentially.
“Getting this information in the community helps the Legion Family with all that it does — the awareness, the public knowledge, the synergies of organizations working together — it just brings us further to our goals and our missions,” said John Creskey. “Any unit, squadron, or post member that has an interest in going further, in going beyond to help, this is one small way to do this, and we found it super successful — it just brings community members a lot closer together. It’s amazing and quite wonderful.”