What you may not know is in 2000 Congress established The National Moment of Remembrance, which asks Americans, wherever they are at 3 p.m., local time, on Memorial Day, to pause in an act of national unity for the duration of one minute. The time 3 p.m. was chosen specifically because it’s the time when most Americans are enjoying their freedoms on the national holiday.
While we are in an appreciative and patriotic mindset, we may want to recall when data came out a few months ago indicating one-in-four Department of Defense families seek food bank assistance, and that many of us were surprised. If we’re being honest with ourselves, the only actual surprise should have been that so many were unaware of this fact – especially since this is not a new reality.
Any current and/or former Senior Enlisted servicemember who came up through the ranks or officer truly concerned about the young people in their charge, can tell you that our country’s young servicemembers and their families are having a rough time making ends meet, and have been for a long time.
Many young servicemembers with a family easily qualify for assistance. That’s a statement that should give us all pause. Not to melodramatically belabor the point, but these are the same young families who have willingly raised their hands to “stand the watch” knowing full well that the likelihood of going into harm’s way is strictly a matter of when – not if.
At the same time many more of these same warriors refuse to seek or accept assistance, which again should give us pause, because we know there are untold others struggling who weren’t counted as seeking assistance at food banks! The uncounted find receiving help as a source of personal embarrassment, because many feel inadequate if they cannot take care of their families. Make no mistake – we are talking about families, not just one person in uniform.
It’s almost cliché to hear someone say the most difficult job in the military is that of a military spouse. Sometimes it seems the meaning is lost on those who have not walked in their shoes. However, between long periods of masked panic associated with the uncertainty of whether your soulmate will ever return to you and your family, and the military’s cultural expectations of being ready, willing and able to manage to present a stable home – it’s easy to understand that each and every military spouse and family serves our nation right alongside their uniformed loved one. As such, hearing that so many access food banks for assistance should alarm and arguably embarrass us – not them.
This is an issue which hopefully transcends politics. Regardless of your stance regarding armed conflict, social entitlements providing assistance or the role of government, young servicemembers and their families defending one of the richest nations in the world – and our way of life - should never have to worry about putting food on the table.
When the most recent data came to light indicating that one-in-four DoD servicemembers do indeed deal with food insecurity, several reports added that Pentagon spokespersons responded by first wanting to look at the math – and then putting forward that within a narrowly-scoped, self-serving extraction from their own data – young servicemembers are doing fine compared to their civilian contemporaries.
Unfortunately, nobody told the thousands of young enlisted families who don’t dare come forward with any contradiction to the chain of command. Nor did anyone tell Feeding America (our national food bank headquarters) the originator of the survey, which brought this reality to light…again!
So what can we do? After all this is not the first time this reality has been brought to the public’s attention. What’s the best way moving forward to ensure these young families don’t have to make choices between basic necessities or food on their tables?
Of course nothing long-lasting would be easy or immediate. That said; when looking for a real solution it’s important to remember that this is not a new issue, so blaming current economic conditions or budgetary limitations simply doesn’t support taking care of what DoD leadership regularly hail as their greatest asset – their people.
So, since DoD leadership has not been able to find the right motivation to find more creative and effective long-lasting solutions, maybe this is an issue best dealt with by the often effective pressure of real, in-depth “Congressional oversight” and then requiring continued reporting on the progress in making these changes to ensure sufficient nutrition for the DoD’s greatest asset.
Of course, as the cycle goes, members of our government are most responsive to issues we constituents “encourage” them to address, with the promise of our own “oversight” to monitor that the changes we desire have been accomplished. Do you know of any elected official who would relish the responsibility of explaining to constituents why they were unable to ensure the DoD secured sufficient funding to feed young servicemembers and their families, while the Military Industrial Complex is being fed?
But, we constituents must make this an issue or there will be no change at all. And then we’ll be surprised that nobody did anything when a future report indicates young families in the service are still seeking food bank assistance.
This brings us back to Memorial Day and the National Moment of Remembrance, held at 3 p.m. According to the Bill, the Moment of Remembrance isn’t meant to replace traditional Memorial Day events. Instead, it’s meant as an act of national unity in which all Americans, honor those who died in service to our nation.
If you’ve read this far, then I’ll share with you that I observe the National Moment of Remembrance, and encourage others to consider joining me every year. I can also tell you that we don’t have to only remember those who gave their lives in service to their country during Memorial Day. We can honor Veterans who are still alive for their sacrifices and even active duty members who are still serving, so we may enjoy our way of life.
One tangible way to honor those still in service to our nation is to support those one-in-four DoD families who are seeking food bank assistance. It seems sadly ironic that Memorial Day is often associated with outdoor barbecues, and generally having a great time with family and friends - overeating a little or maybe even enjoying a trip to the lake, when you consider those one-in-four families.
The Montgomery Area Food Bank (MAFB) service area includes 35 of Alabama’s 67 counties. Within those counties are military families serving in support of Maxwell AFB and the Army’s Fort Rucker and Fort Benning. MAFB is associated with literally hundreds of local community agencies and we provide food assistance as well as other forms of support ranging from baby food and diapers to basic necessities like toiletries. You’re already on our Web site. All you have to do is click on our DONATE link, which can be found near the top of almost every page. And no; you don’t have to wait until Memorial Day or the National Moment of Remembrance. If you do donate – thank you. And as we used to say in the Navy…”Good on ya!”
Written by Al Bloom Grant Writer/Media Relations Coordinator
On Saturday, December 6th, I had the “privilege” of taking an emergency box to a lady who had called requesting assistance. I say privilege, because when I left her house, I felt I received more than she did.
This woman was a nurse for 30 years. Three years ago, she began having medical problems that have continued to the point that she is in a motorized chair and has to have someone come daily to care for her. She was reluctant to call us, she said, because she doesn’t want to have to ask for help, but has gone through all her savings and had to choose between getting her prescriptions (many of them) filled and buying food. She literally had nothing left to eat. She has no family other than some distant relations in Tuscaloosa that she doesn’t want to burden with her problems.
When I called and talked to her as I pulled up to her house, I thought I was talking to a very elderly person, her voice was so soft and frail. She kept apologizing because it took her some time to get to the door. I was shocked to learn that she is about my age- which means she does not qualify for programs like Meals on Wheels because she’s not 60 years old. She is getting progressively worse and is developing early dementia, so she is going to have to go to a nursing home before much longer.
As I got ready to leave, she thanked me over and over and wished me a Merry Christmas. I sat in my car in tears for quite a while and was not able to get her out of my mind all weekend. It wasn’t just her situation, which while heart-breaking, is not all that uncommon. It was her attitude and spirit that humbled and shamed me…despite all she is dealing with she was so positive and pleasant to talk with. I keep wondering how she remains so strong when faced with such daunting medical and financial issues.
I hope that I can keep her clearly pictured in my mind as I go about my day’s work for that is who we serve. How many more like her are out there that we don’t even know about? We owe it to each and every one of them to give every bit of talent and energy we have to doing our jobs the best we can. I hope the next time I say I don’t feel like going to work, or I’m tired, or have a little ache or pain, that her face will come to mind. If she can face the trials she is facing day after day with such a sweet spirit and undaunting strength, then surely I can come to work with the right attitude and do all I can do to make it better for those we serve.
So many people depend on us to do our very best for them each and every day. We are doing them a huge disservice if we are just here marking time until the next paycheck or to fulfill our personal agendas. We choose to be here and to carry out this mission; we need to do it well.
It was a privilege to be able to help this woman in some small way. It was a privilege because it was a lesson in handling adversity with dignity and goodness rather than bitterness and self-pity. It was a privilege because I was once again reminded that the work I do isn’t about statistics or paperwork—it’s about real people who are hurting and need our help. It was a privilege because it reminded me not to get comfortable, but to keep pushing for solutions. I am grateful that I have been given this chance to make a small difference in a few people’s lives. If I forget, simply delivering a small box of food goes a long way in reminding me.
If your non-profit agency would like to sponsor a senior in need or learn more about our Senior Supplement program, contact Cheri O'Dell at (334) 263-3784. Or, you can support the Senior Supplement program by donating here.