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Food drive in progress for rising number of Berks veterans who are struggling

Reading Eagle - 6/3/2024

With a rising number of Berks County veterans struggling financially, three local entities have partnered to collect food for former military members and raise awareness of their needs.

The Veterans Coalition of Pennsylvania, the Berks County Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard are in the midst of a food drive that will culminate with a ruck march through Reading to City Park for distribution on June 8.

“No one who fought to defend our nation and our American way of life should have to worry about where their next meal is coming from or where they’ll lay their head at night,” said Jay Ostrich, director of the Berks veterans office.

That idea — combined with the growing number of veterans calling his office because they are in financial crisis — helped prompt the food drive, he said.

Many veterans are on fixed incomes, he said, and with grocery costs increasing their money doesn’t go as far as it used to.

“We’re getting dozens of calls a week from veterans having a hard time making ends meet,” he said. “Many are one unexpected bill or phone call away from disaster.”

Help from the VA often takes time, he said, so the food drive partners are trying to given them more immediate assistance, he said.

“We’re seeing what we can do to take care of them now to give them some relief from their suffering,” he said.

The veterans coalition holds a veterans stand down on the second Saturday of each month at City Park and the fourth Saturday of each month in Pottstown’s Memorial Park, where bags of food, clothing, a hot meal and other necessities are given to dozens of veterans in need and other services are provided.

The food drive is being paired with that Reading event.

Canned and boxed food, toiletries and other items are being collected at the Berks veterans office, 726 Cherry St., and the National Guard station, 2601 River Road, Muhlenberg Township.

On June 8, a group of veterans will fill their backpacks with those items and march from the William Penn Memorial Fire Tower on Skyline Drive to the park. Some of the items will be handed out there to the several dozens veterans who attend the stand down, and the remainder will allow the coalition to stock up for its coming events.

Coalition President Chris Spohn said he also has seen the need for food increase.

More veterans are having to make need-based decisions such as whether to direct their money toward groceries medicine, or gas to help them get to their jobs, he said.

If the event can help reduce the stress of food insecurity for veterans, they will then be able to better afford their other bills, including rent and utilities, and focus more on their health and employment, Ostrich said.

Staff Sgt. Brandon Jacoby, who is a recruiter with the National Guard’s station in Muhlenberg, wants the event to make people realize how many local veterans need support.

Hopefully they, too, will contribute to the cause, he said.

“The more people that are willing to help us help our brothers and sisters, the better,” he said.

The three entities leading the food drive will continue partnering on other veterans support projects, officials said.

“We won’t stop working together until the mission is complete,” Jacoby said, meaning when veteran hunger is no longer an issue in Berks. “It’s our job to take care of each other.”

More information

For more information about the food drive and ruck march, call the Berks County Department of Veterans Affairs office at 610-378-5601.

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