ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Kathy Vines, left, of Clever Girl Organizing, and Alicia Reddin, Saugus veterans officer, work on the mobile food market for veterans.
By BRIDGET TURCOTTE
SAUGUS — In less than one year, the Veterans Mobile Market, run by the town’s Veterans Services office, has grown from serving 12 to 109 families in Saugus.
Veterans Services began distributing food to veterans in March 2015 in Melrose after witnessing a similar program in Revere, said Saugus Veterans Officer Alicia Reddin.
“We went over there, saw how it ran and how it operated and thought ‘we can do this,” Reddin said. “Once we grew to 150 families, we broke off from Revere and (now) have our own separate day that we do it.
“We saw such a success (in Melrose), in April, we thought we would try to roll it out in Saugus and Wakefield,” said Reddin.
The quality of food the market would provide veterans and their families was of particular concern, she said.
“We noticed that we had a lot of veterans in the community on every scale of income,” she said. “One thing that kind of crossed all groups was the need for healthy, nutritious food.”
Veterans Services partnered with the Greater Boston Food Bank and Whole Foods Market in Wakefield to bring quality food to veterans in need of assistance, Reddin said.
Services are offered to veterans, spouses and children of veterans under the age of 18, she said.
“If the veteran has passed, the widow would also be qualified,” she said.
One thing that sets the market apart from other pantries is the volume of food that is distributed, she said.
“We bring the food to the senior center and pre-package everything. We do the math ahead of time,” she said. “Typically, each veteran walks out with approximately 30 pounds of food.”
The items are packaged into reusable shopping bags, donated from Whole Foods Market and T.J. Maxx. Volunteers are available to help veterans load the groceries into their vehicles.
Reddin said the market has seen a spike in clients over the past six months. In response, the Veterans Services office and other volunteers are working to come up with the most efficient and productive methods to ensure they are able to provide for each client.
“No other town grows like this. It’s a good thing,” she said.
“Now we’re working to figure out how we can make it the most efficient,” Reddin said. “We’re bringing people in, we have our own people.
“Kathy Vines, a professional organizer, met with our district director and wanted to volunteer,” she said. “She’s assisting us with making this program as efficient as possible so we can serve as many people as possible.
“We’re trying to (learn how to) manage our long-term growth strategies,” Reddin said.
Saugus Military Families provides the majority of the volunteers each month, she said.
“Recently Selectman (Jennifer) D’Eon came to volunteer and Andrea Gayle-Bennett, a well-known veteran in town who sits on the Saugus Veterans Council, does a lot with volunteering and participating,” Reddin said. “Paul Sullivan is extremely pivotal. He loads and unloads trucks with hundreds of pounds of food. Without Town Hall supporting us, we really wouldn’t be able to do this.”
Food is distributed at the Saugus Senior Center from noon to 1 p.m. on the third Wednesday of each month. Those who wish to sign up for assistance should visit the Veterans Service office at Saugus Town Hall the week before distribution and should bring proof of residence and veteran status.
The next Veterans Mobile Market will be held March 16.
Bridget Turcotte can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte.