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Xenia food pantry serving food insecure veterans and active duty families

A client picking up baked goods at the Xenia FISH Food Pantry.
Alejandro Figueroa
A client picking up baked goods at the Xenia FISH Food Pantry.

Veterans Day was last week. The holiday honors veterans of all wars for their service. But in their lives after their service, some veterans face food insecurity.

Some say Charlie Huff is Xenia’s best dressed man. Last Saturday he was wearing all red. He even had a red flat cap. He’s described by most as charismatic and outgoing. He’s also an Air Force veteran who was stationed in South Korea in 1956.

Huff has been coming to the Xenia FISH Food Pantry for over five years. He can get what he needs, but also sit down for coffee or donuts and chat with volunteers and other veterans that stop by.

“I come down on Saturday because there's no crowd and I’m a veteran,” Huff said. “And they treat me right, they just let me get it, you know.”

Staff knows that some veterans feel a stigma about asking for help. That’s why they reserve the second and fourth Saturday of every month just for veterans and active duty families.

Gail Maton, the pantry's Executive Director, said the pantry has always had a close association with veterans. She said the pantry realized that some veterans wouldn’t come because they didn’t want to get a “food handout.”

“We wanted to make it to where it was more like a visiting place for coffee or donuts,” Matson said. “[We open] just for them to come in and kind of associate with other veterans. And that was the original plan.”

Alejandro Figueroa
The Xenia FISH Food Pantry exterior on Cincinnati Avenue.

The pantry began opening for veterans in August and the number of people coming in has been growing, according to Matson.

A recent study from the U.S Department of Agriculture reports that poverty among veterans has profound implications for health and food security. The study analysis also found veterans have a 7.4% greater risk for food insecurity.

Some of the reasons for poverty among veterans are mixed. But studies point to service-related disabilities that might affect veterans' ability to enter the workforce. Also, some older veterans might be on a fixed income.

Matson said the special pantry hours are all about being more accommodating to the needs of some veterans. The pantry is also open for clients on weekdays for anyone who needs food in Greene County.

“We treat every person that comes in here with respect,” Matson said. “And it's just like going to a grocery store and shopping.”

The Xenia FISH food pantry has grown steadily since opening its new facility on Cincinnati Avenue earlier this summer. The pantry sees over 600 people on average every month.

Visitors just need to sign up and they can take a shopping cart through the aisles of pallets and refrigerators stocked with food and pick what they want, Matson says.

As for Huff, he’s thankful and appreciates the kindness of the volunteers at the pantry, and he makes sure they know it.

“I don't know if I'll be here in the morning, so I'm going to enjoy what people do for me and enjoy doing for others,” Huff said. “I’m blessed.”

Food reporter Alejandro Figueroa is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

Alejandro Figueroa covers food insecurity and the business of food for WYSO through Report for America. He particularly covers the efforts by local organizations and government agencies to address a problem that has increased dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic.