Harvesting Hope and Relieving Hunger for a Military Community

By Mary Louise Resch
May 8, 2017
Volunteer holds open sack

Members of the U.S. military and their families are very special people who sacrifice everything to ensure our safety and freedoms are protected.

Sometimes those same people are sacrificing even more than they should – they’re worried about where their families’ next meals will come from.

Here at Harvest Hope Food Bank in Columbia, South Carolina, my job is to work with local governments and businesses to understand how we can best work together to serve those in need. Working here for over six years has given me a unique perspective on hunger and it’s allowed me to see a gap we can help fill to help our military community.

We have a large military presence in South Carolina. Our state is home to several military facilities, a number of veterans’ hospitals and one of the largest military populations in the country. We have over 50,000 active and reserve troops and over 400,000 veterans living or working in our state.

With that many military men and women living and working in South Carolina, and the fact that Harvest Hope serves 20 of the 46 counties in the state, it’s understandable that we might see a few on occasion. Everyone goes through difficult times, and sometimes you just need a little boost to get back on your feet. What troubled me was how many people with military ties we were actually serving – approximately 12% of the people we see each day.

My philosophy, as well as those who work with me, is there’s no reason anyone who puts their life on the line should ever need to stand in line for food. As someone who served nine years of active duty, it’s a cause near and dear to my heart. So I took action.

I found a study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office on the use of food assistance programs by active duty military. I saw that Feeding America had recently developed a partnership with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to increase food access to veterans. Both of these backed up what I was seeing in my community and pushed me to find a more strategic way reach those men and women who’ve already sacrificed so much.

In 2016, with the support of our food bank’s leadership, we developed Operation Hunger Prevention (HP). This is Harvest Hope’s first large-scale campaign focused specifically on providing food relief to active duty military, veterans and their families. We were so excited when we received grant funding from the Walmart Foundation and Bank of America Foundation to help us get the pilot program up and running – and demonstrate further the actual need for these services. The best part? We could provide assistance to active military, veterans or their family members without any cost to them or the U.S Department of Defense.

This year, we were very fortunate to receive an additional $75,000 grant from the Walmart Foundation, and take Operation HP into a stage two pilot. It will allow us to expand the program out to county veterans affairs offices and ease the burden of having to search for additional funds and sponsors. Because of this funding, we’ll have more time to focus on helping our military community and their families. It will help us provide an estimated 375,000 additional meals.

I’m proud Operation HP is able to provide additional support for such an important part of our community – relieving stress and improving overall military readiness of our troops. These men, women, and families put a lot out there to protect our freedom and ask so little in return. This is just one small way of saying thank you.