Many Fort Bragg families suffer from food insecurity during the pandemic

FORT BRAGG, N.C. (WTVD) -- Many are struggling to make ends meet because of the pandemic even on Fort Bragg where more military families are suffering from food insecurity.

"I lost my job in July due to COVID-19," said Rachel Szabo, a military spouse.

She's been out of work for nearly five months. Szabo is the wife of a soldier with the 82nd Airborne Division. She picks up groceries monthly from Fort Bragg's Armed Services YMCA. The couple is expecting their first baby on Christmas Day.

"I've always been someone who has paid for everything myself. Paid my way through school. Paid my own student loans, which I had a ton of. That's where all my unemployment goes. It's truly one income for us," Szabo said.

While service members often fight for our country, many of their families are taking on another battle during this pandemic: keeping their families fed.

"In March-through-May time frame, we saw a 40 percent jump in families needing food here at Fort Bragg," said Michelle Baumgarten of the Armed Services YMCA Fort Bragg.

According to Baumgarten, about 77 percent of the military families served here are the families of junior enlisted soldiers.

Col. Scott Pence said there are resources available at Army Community Services to help offset those challenges.

"Financial planning, interview prep and provide suits and dresses for people to go into interviews with," Pence said.

This year alone, the pantry has distributed more than 35,000 pounds of food to military families. Szabo wants to reassure those families that it's OK to ask for support.

"I think more families need to come forward and say I do need help," Szabo said.

Resources available for military families on Fort Bragg:
  • Army Community Service: Army Emergency Relief: In times of hardships and unexpected expenses, Army Emergency Relief can assist in a variety of ways from no-interest loans, grants, or a combination based on circumstance. Emergencies that AER can assist with, but aren't limited to; non-receipt of pay, medical expenses, funeral expenses, emergency travel, rent, food, and utilities.
  • The ACS food gift baskets:Every year the ACS staff collects food for approximately 50 food baskets to be given out to AER customers that need them during Thanksgiving and Christmas. Soldiers and their families receive food for their holiday meals and a gift card from donated sources to buy their ham or turkey. It is determined by ACS referrals for families who are facing financial difficulties. A budget review is done by financial counselors to ensure the need.
  • Employment Readiness Program:This program assists military spouses and family members in their search for employment and in the advancement of portable careers. Free resume and interview classes are offered four times a month.
  • Operation Helping Hand:A Religious Support Office assistance program funded via chapel tithes and offering community account. Operation Helping Hand provides emergency food relief to needy Soldiers and Families through Commissary Gift Cards. Soldiers are able to access this support through their unit chaplain.
  • DoDEA Schools: They receive today's lunch and tomorrow's breakfast. Do not have to be a DoDEA student. Meals are available for anyone 18 years and younger. Reminders/information is on DoDEA's social media and each school's Facebook page. The meal program is federally funded and free to military families.
  • USO: Pre-COVID, the Fort Bragg center serviced between 300 and 500 service members and their families every day. The USO is committed to keeping our service members and their families connected to family, country, and home while they are serving our nation. Since the shutdown of the centers (March 15), they have still managed to complete over 47,000 service instances for Fort Bragg service members and families.
  • Army Community Service: Army Emergency Relief: In times of hardships and unexpected expenses, Army Emergency Relief can assist in a variety of ways from no-interest loans, grants, or a combination based on circumstance. Emergencies that AER can assist with, but aren't limited to; non-receipt of pay, medical expenses, funeral expenses, emergency travel, rent, food, and utilities.
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