Veterans say Second Harvest’s new food program is ‘fantastic’

Venango County veterans are praising a new program from Second Harvest Food Bank of NW PA that provides them and their families with some good quality food.

“I have one word for this program,” said Felty Bradybaugh, 68, of Oil City, who served in Vietnam. “Fantastic. This program is fantastic.”

Second Harvest Food Bank, which operates out of Erie, serves 11 counties in northwest Pennsylvania and works with agencies and schools to establish programs that provide families in need with food.

It expanded its Military Share Produce Express food distribution to include Venango County in April. The distribution place is at the Franklin VFW Post.

At the first distribution in April, 35 households of veterans, current military or their family members came to the VFW to pick up boxes of fresh food. In August, at the second distribution, 52 households showed up, and at the third in October, 57 households were there.

“That’s an impressive 62 percent increase from April to October in the number of veterans and their relatives that Second Harvest is feeding with fresh produce and other groceries,” said Andrea Velez, media and special events coordinator at the food bank.

The next distribution will take place Tuesday. Bill Hoobler, the onsite volunteer coordinator of the military share distribution in Franklin, said volunteers arrive to set up at 4 p.m., and the food distribution starts at 5 p.m.

Gerry Weiss, manager of programs at the food bank, said the food is distributed on a first come, first serve basis.

Hoobler, who served in Vietnam, said he wants to see the program continue to build.

“This program was brought to Venango County by a grant, and if we keep building, we will have a better option to get that grant renewed in May. It is the only one in Venango County,” Hoobler said.

Households receive fresh fruits and vegetables as well as eggs, milk and some frozen produce.

Hoobler said the program has had many volunteers from the Franklin Elks Club and from the business community who helped set up the tables, transfer the food into smaller bags for each household, and hand out the food to the households.

Hoobler noted that Weiss and other staff at Second Harvest are working hard to make sure more veterans hear about it and are registered.

“Pre-registration is key,” said Hoobler. “But if a person calls Weiss, he will register them right over the phone. Even if someone turns up without registering, Gerry tries to make sure they will get some food.”

Applications are also available at the Erie VA Medical Center on Allegheny Boulevard in Franklin, Hoobler said.

“It is a really good deal,” said Bradybaugh. “This food helps us a lot, and I am really glad they started it.”

Bradybaugh, who has to use a walker, said a friend takes him to the distribution place and helps him with the two boxes of food.

Veteran Ken Moorehead, 77, who served in Vietnam, said “I think the program is really fine in trying to help the veterans. Because some of the veterans are coming back and really needing some help and not getting it.”

Moorehead said the program helps both aging veterans and younger ones.

“Sometimes they are proud,” he said. “They served their country and they are proud of it – but then they get back and it is all over. I think for some of them it is a big change to come home after being in the war and it is tough to get on their feet, and some of them are having emotional problems and flashbacks. I understand that.”

“There has never been another food bank in this area that has done something for the vets until this food bank,” Moorehead added. “I am happy to see that it is having an effect. I contact other vets and their families to let them know about it. It is really a blessing.”