Published in the January 19, 2016 edition.


WAKEFIELD — No one should have to go without food, least of all those who have defended our country by serving in the military.

The Veterans Services District that includes Wakefield is working to make sure that veterans and veterans’ families always have enough fresh, nutritious food every month.

The Veterans Mobile Food Market has been operating since April 2015 in all three communities in in the district – Wakefield, Melrose and Saugus.

According to Wakefield Veterans Services Officer Alicia Reddin, the Greater Boston Food Bank delivers a supply food on the third Wednesday of every month to Memorial Hall in Melrose. The Massachusetts Department of Corrections sends volunteers to help unload the truck.

“The Greater Boston Food Bank is our middle-man to allow us to get exactly what we need and make sure that the food is appropriate for the general age groups that we serve, which is primarily adults and older adults,” Reddin explains.

“We then pre-pack the bags based on the numbers we have to each community,” Reddin says. The bags are then delivered to each community where they are distributed to veterans and/or spouses and children of veterans. In Wakefield, the distribution point is Town Hall. Reddin says that veterans who have signed up for the program can pick up the pre-packed bags between noon and 1 p.m. on the third Wednesday of each month.

“We’ll help them load the bags into their car,” she says. “Typically the bags weigh between 25-35 pounds. It’s a huge food allotment – potatoes, carrots, onions – a little bit of everything.”

Reddin says that there are currently nine families in Wakefield participating in the program but she would like to increase participation to where Wakefield has numbers comparable to Melrose (40-50 families) and Saugus (over 100).

She stresses that unlike some other veterans’ benefits, the Mobile Food Market is not a need-based program. Anyone is eligible, regardless of income or assets.

“We don’t even ask any of that,” Reddin says. “All we ask is some proof of military service. Widows and children of veterans also qualify. It’s really anyone with any direct connection to a veteran.”

“When it comes to food, we won’t say ‘no,’” she says.

She explains that the Greater Boston Food Bank acts as an intermediary and funnels donations to the program from major corporate donors like 365 Brands (Whole Foods), Panera Bread, Starbucks and other sources.

“We often get fresh vegetables and fruits from local farms,” Reddin notes. “They can’t always sell everything they grow so they will donate. Just recently we got a ton of stuff from Starbucks and Panera.

“Panera will send over chicken noodle soup, which is homemade in the stores but then they will package it and give it to us,” she says. “Starbucks will send us sandwiches that they’ve made.

“It’s not only your typical food pantry items,” she says. Some of it is geared more toward immediate consumption.

The emphasis is on fresh foods, Reddin says, which is obviously more available in the summer.

“But we do have fresh vegetables and fresh fruits every single month, she stresses. “It’s not all boxed foods. We try to provide nutritious food that people like and they know what to do with.”

Sadly, some veterans and families that could benefit from the program shy away due to an unfortunate stigma associated with food pantries. District Veterans Services Director Ryan McLane addressed that issue in a blog post he wrote last year when the program was just starting.

“Although our local food pantries are excellent and assist dozens of veterans weekly, many worthy residents shy away from these resources due to attached stigmas,” McLane wrote. “We are hoping to erase those stigmas.”

Reddin agrees that perceptions and attitudes may prevent some deserving veterans and families from participating in the program.

“The stigma is hard to break and it’s hard to get through to people,” she says.

She stresses that the Veterans Mobile Food Market is different.

“We try to make it very clear that it’s not a food pantry,” Reddin says. “It’s not need based. It’s not just for low income. We’re trying to market this more as a ‘thank you for what you’ve done for us.’ This is just one small way that we can give back.”

Veterans and their families can register now for the Wednesday, Feb. 17 Mobile Food Market. Phone the Wakefield Veterans Services Office at 781-246-6377 or call Marianne McPherson at the Wakefield Council on Aging at 781-245-3312.