As COVID-19 cases started to be confirmed in other parts of Pennsylvania, PAServes – Greater Pittsburgh, part of the AmericaServes initiative and administered by Pittsburgh Mercy, knew it was a matter of time before there were confirmed cases in the Greater Pittsburgh area. As early signs and symptoms of COVID-19 began to surface, PAServes prepared to take on the task of coordinating supports throughout all of its partner network and beyond. As we began to think ahead and plan, we realized that due to the stay-at-home orders and the panic buying that was taking place, veterans in the community would need a few essential necessities moving forward: food security, medication security, and health care security.
As PAServes is a part of Pittsburgh Mercy, which strives to be a person-centered presence in the community, we asked the tough question about the challenging task at hand: How might we ensure that veterans received the food, medication, and physical and mental health securities? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the vulnerable populations we serve are at the most risk. To take on this challenge and to stay ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic, we sent emails to over a thousand individuals who were previously helped through the PAServes network, asking if they needed direct supports for food, medication, and health care. The responses that we received back were overwhelming.
Immediate responses that came back in a checklist format identified what supports the veteran needed in high volume. They also sent messages to us, stating things such as, “Thank you for thinking of me” and “I’m glad I received this because I don’t know what to do and have two days of food in the house.” Immediately, the PAServes team realized there was another layer to the pandemic: transportation. It was easy to presume transportation would be accessible because fewer people would be using private and public transportation methods. We quickly learned that there was a co-occurring need for food security and also a means to get the food. Faced with veterans who have respiratory illnesses, mobility issues, other health issues, and/or being a senior citizen, we knew it wasn’t a question of resource availability, but it was rather a matter of the connection to that resource.
In a partnership between the PAServes program and the Pittsburgh Mercy Intervention Services, food delivery quickly became the answer to bridge that gap in care for the Pittsburgh veteran community. As PAServes vetted, screened, identified, and triaged veterans for this critical service, a referral was made to Pittsburgh Mercy, requesting delivery of food to a veteran’s house while following the necessary CDC guidelines. Food deliveries were coming from local food pantries and distribution centers, but the wait time for the food pickups from the pantry were often about an hour-long wait. This critical support needed to be faster and more efficient to be able to serve and help more veterans in need.
food distribution point was set up, in partnership with the Brentwood Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Post 1810. VFW members shopped for food and brought it back to the distribution point. Then VFW members assembled boxes for Pittsburgh Mercy colleagues to pick up for delivery to the veterans in need, cutting down on the wait time and allowing the program to serve two more veterans a day — 10 more a week. As initial meals were being delivered, the Intervention Services team received messages of extreme gratitude and appreciation. The veterans finally had peace of mind with their food security. Some veterans, isolated and alone except for their pets, received pet food as well. The veteran’s mental well-being, knowing that they and their pet were cared for, gave them certainty in this uncertain time. They had peace knowing they weren’t being forgotten and that supports were in place.
Basic supply-and-demand economics dictated the need for additional supports to the newly created VFW distribution center. What started with $200 from the VFW community fund and $200 from the post’s Auxiliary fund had to grow exponentially to sustain the critical operation. Requests for support went out to PAServes partners and VFW partners to gather the additional support. Responses to support the mission were amazing with both food and financial donations. Between PAServes, Pittsburgh Mercy, the VFW, and community partners, the delivery of food to those vulnerable veterans was able to continue.
After nearly two weeks, 100 boxes of food have been delivered from the VFW to the veterans’ doors. Each box is filled with some perishable and non-perishable items that constitute a balanced diet. All the major food groups are represented in each box, which has estimated value of $125. Each box is delivered to a veteran who had only a day or a few days of supplies available and wasn’t sure what they were going to do for food in a few more days. It’s impossible to quantify the peace of mind for a veteran to be near desperation and then to have that wiped away. Of the 100 boxes of food delivered, 100 percent of the veterans who received the boxes have stronger hope in humanity during all of this.
None of this would be possible without the great support that Pittsburgh gives to its veterans. Financial support, donated food, and volunteer time helped make this happen. With all of the uncertainties as the world figures out this new way of life, it is certain that Pittsburgh is greatly successful in serving the veterans residing here. While PAServes, Pittsburgh Mercy Intervention Services, and the VFW are the key players in this situation, the partners listed below are just as equal in their efforts in donations and support to the Pittsburgh veterans.
- Brentwood Presbyterian Church: Donated their entire food pantry to the VFW for support
- Bethel Park Walmart: Gift card to the VFW for food purchases
- Serving our Sentinels: $500 to the VFW for food purchases
- Schneider’s Dairy: Continued donations of half-gallon jugs of milk
- Veterans Place of Washington Boulevard: Donated food provided to them in collaboration to support
- Daniel’s Discount Appliance: Donated a large truck for food pickup at the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank
- Operation Troop Appreciation: 500 hygiene kits to go out with the food boxes, pet food, and toys/activities for children
- George Scott: Financial donation toward food efforts
- Four anonymous donors from the VFW: Financial donations for food purchases
- Christ Community Church: Financial donations for food purchases
- Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank: Authorized the VFW to be an official food distribution site and donated multiple pallets of food for distribution
- Defenders of Freedom Pittsburgh Chapter: $200 in funds for food purchases
- Seven anonymous civilian donors: Financial donations for food purchases.
For more information, contact Matt Gryskewicz, PA Serves and Intervention Program Administrator,
To contact PAServes, call 1-855-838-7744 or visit https://pittsburgh.americaserves.org/. If you are in crisis, call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255.
To contact the VFW, email Vfw1810commander@gmail.com.
Matt Gryskewicz is PA Serves and Intervention Program Administrator at Pittsburgh Mercy.