As a federal employee for USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, it is part of my job to know the many faces of hunger. People in need can come from all backgrounds, ages, locations, and walks of life. They are children. They are senior citizens. They are even those who are newly unemployed during our nation’s economic downturn. I knew all of this. But what caught me off guard was the fact that many are also our nation’s veterans.
Being a veteran myself, and living in the Dallas area, I have spent a fair share of time at the North Texas Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Dallas for non-combative injuries suffered while on active duty. I developed working relationships with the staff there and accepted an invitation to represent my agency at a Homeless Stand Down event. I heard of such outreach, but being present was something totally different and an eye-opener.
I learned that an estimated 15 percent of our nation’s homeless are veterans. While I manned a table with stacks of pamphlets about FNS’s 15 nutrition assistance programs, almost 700 homeless veterans passed by. Some asked for information. Others spoke to me about how the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program could help them purchase food month to month. More than a few just wanted someone to listen to their experiences—which I did happily.
It broke my heart to see so many American heroes barely making it day-to-day, living on the streets or in shelters. But the opportunity to do outreach like this brightened my spirits. It is why I continue to serve my country in a federal capacity. I am beyond proud that I aided in this event. Veterans received clothing, shoes, medical and dental care, vaccinations, housing and employment information and much, much more. More importantly, they also got a hot meal.
Just like FNS has a mission to end hunger, the Veterans Administration has set a goal of ending homelessness among veterans. I have no doubt that we can accomplish both missions if we all work together to make it happen. And USDA’s nutrition assistance programs are an integral part of fighting hunger in communities across the country, including the veterans with whom I share a special bond.