Keith Griffin, the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center chief of Voluntary Services, recently heard about the Middle Georgia Community Food Banks (MGCFB). After attending a food drive – and seeing the organization provide hundreds of food boxes to those in need – Griffin, an Air Force Veteran and active member in the Dublin and middle Georgia communities, talked to MGCFB leadership about a potential partnership with VA.

David Whitmer, the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center director, was all for it.

“In this uncertain time with both the COVID-19 pandemic and civil unrest in our nation, we have to do everything in our power to help Veterans in need,” Whitmer said. “When Keith Griffin shared his vision with me, I was enthusiastic. It’s consistent with our mission to support Veterans.”

Carl Vinson VAMC employees and volunteers make final preparations before Veterans started receiving boxes and bags of food and milk.

Partnership to get food to Veterans

Griffin had a vision: MGCFB would provide pallets of food, and the event would be hosted at Dublin VAMC. MGCFB leadership embraced the idea, and Griffin began planning the event and requesting logistical support.

In the photo above, Griffin ensures food is placed in strategic locations. From there, employees and volunteers provide food to Veterans while maintaining social distancing requirements.

On July 29, an unexpected cold front provided a bit of relief to the approximately 50 employees and volunteers from several organizations who showed up to help. Over the course of the day, more than 270 Veterans received a box of food and other items.

Qualified Veterans were instructed to stay in their vehicles to ensure their safety by limiting interactions with employees and volunteers who loaded food in trunks and back seats.

“We had a great turnout. We started a little before 11 because we had many Veterans show up early,” Griffin said. “It’s a great partnership whenever Dublin VAMC can work with local businesses, organizations and volunteers to help our Veterans. It’s awesome.”

Pandemic precautions in place

Dublin VAMC police setup traffic control points to guide Veterans to the distribution site. When they arrived, volunteers checked Veterans’ identification and asked them to fill out a short form for the food bank’s records. Veterans drove to the distribution site. Volunteers instructed them to stay in their cars as a preventative measure to minimize possible exposure to COVID-19. Volunteers placed food in their back seats or trunks.

Employees and volunteers wore masks. They also maintained physical distancing while assembling boxes. Many of the boxes contained fresh fruits and vegetables, bread, chicken, beef, canned goods, Girl Scout Cookies, rice, macaroni and cheese, and a gallon of milk.

Everyone left fulfilled

“When you have many Veterans who are out of work, food, and money, times can get desperate quickly,” said Gus Allbritton. Allbritton is an Army Vietnam Veteran and volunteer extraordinaire. He has more than 30,000 hours of volunteer time at Dublin VAMC.

“Being able to help these Veterans who need the bare necessities to live and put food on the table is what it’s all about. In the service, you must look out for one another. That responsibility doesn’t end after you take off the uniform.”

The Veterans who received food were grateful and appreciative. The Dublin VAMC employees and volunteers felt a sense of pride that can only be experienced when helping a fellow human being in need. It’s fair to say everyone left fulfilled.

James W. Huckfeldt is the deputy public affairs officer for the Dublin VAMC. Photos by Ethan Lowe.

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